It’s taken me a week to write this, not because it wasn’t a nice afternoon out but because a tiny girl I know is turning 4 imminently and it seems to have distracted me from most things this week, including blogging. So belatedly, Happy 400th Deathday Shakespeare!
Midsummer Night’s Dream has always had a special place in my heart, ever since I was in a school production in 1994. You can take a guess at which part I had but be assured, it was less ethereal fairy and more rough mechanical. So when I heard that London Contemporary Theatre were staging free performancesof MSND just outside Liverpool St, I had to go. I didn’t check the weather forecast or the likelihood of rain or whether it would be a good plan to make the children walk miles around Chingford before we made the trip into town. So, it’s an unlikely miracle that not only did we get there on time but also managed to sit through the whole thing without the kids complaining even though they were tired and it was a little on the chilly side.
It’s all about the Magic Stars, and wrapping up warm. Also, it helped that it was only 40 minutes long, which is an ideal length for a “My First Shakespeare” kinda performance. Roo said afterwards that he didn’t understand what was going on, but that’s not suprising given the complexity of Shakespeare’s language and plots. I tried to explain the story to him on the train home and he still looked confused, but he said he enjoyed the fighting and the men in the silly hats and wigs.
I was wondering how they’d possibly do the whole of MSND in 40 minutes and with a cast of 4, and the aforementioned silly hats and wigs may help to explain it. The four of them rapidly switched characters, with Helena bedecked in pink ribbons but changing to a hat to play some kind of mix of Snout and Starveling. At one point, I think Hermia may just have been a wig, or was it Hippolyta? I’m not quite sure.
The play was obviously heavily abridged, with page-long speeches reduced to a line, and all the supporting fairy characters cut out. If you weren’t familiar with the play, it might have been difficult to grasp some of the finer details but the best scenes were left mostly intact – like the girl-on-girl fight (gotta love a “minimus of hindering knot-grass-made”) and the most tragic tale of Pyramus and Thisby. However, for personnel reasons, the court interjections had been cut, which is a shame because a nice bit of mockery never goes astray.
It’s never going to be a super-serious production in the middle of a public space (Broadgate Circle, if anyone’s interested) with all the rapid character changes, but the cast played it pretty straight for the most part. Of course, MSND isn’t the most serious play anyway, but you want a bit of drama to make the comedy more comedic. So, it was a good balance of traditional Shakespeare with a dollop of mayhem. Bottom was suitably arrogant, Titania a drunken lush ready to brawl with Oberon…and Puck was a puppet. Obviously. For those attempting to explain the plot to small children, the “magic flower” plot device can also be found in Julia Donaldson’s Superworm. Explaining the concept of a play-within-a-play might be trickier.
Having said that, it seems that CBeebies have done their own take on MSND, which might help clear things up. I’ll check that out with the kids and compare and contrast…