Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

A fresh view for these jaded eyes. Ten thousand performers auditioned for this production, and it shows.

I have taken hundreds of grade nine students through the text of this play, seen it several times myself, and taken my School of the Arts Drama class on tour with it; so when I saw NAC was bringing a production of this old chestnut to Ottawa, I was not enthusiastic. But early press notices suggested that this was something different, and it was.

This is a world touring production from India, with a cast that is all Indian or Sri Lankan. In spite of the fact that there is very little English in the performance (lines are spoken in Hindi, Tamil, Malyalam, Marathi, Bengali, Sanskrit, Sinhalese and English) the few English lines are just enough to keep the audience in the play. This is a phenomenon that is not too unlike viewing the play in Elizabethan English, which most audience members cannot understand anyway.

The performance features virtuoso performances by a standout cast which is required to be acrobatic, musical, terpsichoric, gymnastic, histrionic, melodramatic, comic—you name it; they can do it.

This was a lavish, fast-paced, ingenious production that I found delightful. It gave me a fresh and penetrating look into Shakespeare’s play. The doubling of the royal court of the land by the actors in the royal court of the fairies was a nice twist. All of the mistaken identities were there, the silly earthy love story between Bottom and the enchanted Titania, the fairy illusions, which made more sense delivered as exotic trapeze work. The performances were delivered with panache and beautifully choreographed invention. It was transporting.

I must comment on the visual aspects of this show:
The costumes are at least as elaborate as Elizabethan dress, but still modern. I cannot think of a way to make present day Northern costumes so wonderfully decorative and sensual. The costumes allowed the extreme movements demanded of the actors on climbable staging and trapeze and slung drapes, and were still fantastical and sensual.
The set is very practical, highly textured, versatile and expressive, without being artificial or drawing undue attention to itself. It could be palace and terrifying forest and romantic enchantment interchangeably. The drapery slings were perhaps the most engaging feature, allowing characters to hang upside down, sleep or make love suspended above ground, or hang above like fairies, observing or manipulating.

There were three musicians onstage, just outside of the action, adding percussive, stringed and wind instrumentation throughout the entire production, giving the action a cinematic flavour.

The acting was visceral, for example giving Oberon real power that in some productions has sometimes seemed elusively more a matter of tradition than inherent in the character. The declamation of lines in language that I certainly did not understand gave me permission to focus on the actors’ movements and declamation, as if I were watching dance or opera instead of interpreted words—very liberating, very sensual. More than that, the dynamics of movement in three (well, even four) dimensions was imaginative; this was almost more Cirque de Soleil than stage play.

This production was not just a splashy reinterpretation of Shakespeare; it was a realization of a very familiar work in a way that opened a new way of seeing it. Wonderful.

National Arts Centre English Theatre presents the Dash Arts Production of
Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Tim Supple

Production

Set and Costume Design: Sumant Jayakrishnan
Music Director: Divissaro
Lighting Design: Zuleikha Chauhari
Assistant Directors/ Deputy Stage Managers: Quasar Thakore Padamsee, Mohit Takalkar
Choreography: D Padmakumar, M Palani
Company Manager: Shankar Arora
Stage Manager: Kavita Puri Arora
Lighting Supervisor: Doug Harry
Sound Supervisor: Rob Bass
Tour General Manager: John F. Fisher / CAPA
Production Manager: John McNamara

The Cast

Court of Athens
Philostrate, Theseus’ Master of Entertainment ….. Ajay Kumar
Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons ….. Archana Ramaswamy
Theseus, Duke of Athens ….. P R Jijoy
Egeus, advisor to Theseus ….. J Jayakumar
Hermia, Egeus’ Daughter, in love with Lysander ….. Vandita Vasa
Demetrius, Hermia’s Suitor ….. M. Palani
Lysander, in love with Hermia ….. Chandan Roy Sanyal
Helena, Hermia’s friend, in love with Demetrius ….. Kriti Pant

Streets of Athens
Peter Quince, a carpenter ….. Vivek Mishra
Nick Bottom, a weaver ….. Aporup Acharya
Francis Flute, a bellows-mender ….. Joyraj Bhattacharjee
Robin Starveling, a tailor ….. T Gopalakrishnan
Tom Snout, a tinker ….. Umesh Jagtap
Snug, a joiner ….. Jitu Shastri

The Forest
Puck, a spirit and servant to Oberon ….. Ajay Kumar
Spirits, servants to Titania:
Peaseblossom ….. Reshma Shetty
Cobweb ….. M Palani
Mustard Seed ….. Charan CS
Moth ….. Ram Pawar
Dragonfly ….. Tapan Das
Glow Worm ….. Dharmender Pawar
Oberon, King of the Fairies ….. P R Jijoy
Titania, Queen of the Fairies ….. Archana Ramaswamy
A boy, stolen from an Indian King ….. Lakhan Pawar

Musicians
Wind/Strings/Percussion ….. N Tiken Singh
Guitar/Stings/Percussion ….. Kaushik Dutta
Percussion/Wind ….. Gagan Singh Bais

Production viewed: November 8, 2008, 2 pm Running time about 2 hours, 45 minutes, including one intermission.

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About riverwriter

Poet, playwright, duplicate bridge player, website designer, cottager, husband, father, grandfather, former athlete, carpenter, computer helper for my friends, theatre designer, backstage polymath, retired teacher of highschool English, drama, art, a baritone singer in a barbershop quartet, who knows what else? wordcurrents is on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wordcurrents/ Doug also has a Facebook page, "Incognitio", related to his novels.
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