Tim Supple’s epic re-interpretation of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which was created in India with Indian and Sri Lankan performers, opened at Camden’s Roundhouse on Tuesday (13 March 2007, previews from 8 March), following its UK premiere for 12 sell-out performances only as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s year-long Complete Works festival in Stratford-upon-Avon last summer (See News, 21 Apr 2006).
A diverse company of 23 dancers, musicians and actors initially came together for a seven-week rehearsal process to create the piece, performed – originally in outdoor venues – in English, Tamil, Malaysian, Sinhalese, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi and Sanskrit, with much emphasis placed on visual theatre and imagery.
At the Roundhouse, A Midsummer Night's Dream is co-produced by Roger Chapman, Matthew Byam Shaw and ACT Productions. Its London premiere – running from 13 March to 14 April 2007 (previews from 8 March) – precedes a major UK and international tour.
Overnight critics were inspired by the imagination that went into creating some stunning visual effects, and while they agreed a familiarity with Shakespeare’s play is valuable for audience members, they were impressed with the way the ensemble cast told the story clearly, overcoming the potential barriers of performing in eight languages. Reviews praised all the performances – particularly that of Joy Fernandes as Botton – and hailed Supple’s production as definitive.
Maxwell Cooter on Whatsonstage.com (4 stars) -
Cooter said the Roundhouse offers: “just the place to showcase all the production's sexuality; and there's plenty of it, at times it looks like a staged version of the Kama Sutra. On top of that, there's ample space to show Sumant Jayakrishnan's design to best effect, as well as allowing the actors to display some gravity-defying ropework. No-one could accuse this multilingual ensemble of lacking ambition: Supple pulls off a near conjuring trick as he brings together actors, musicians and dancers, speaking seven different languages, into a coherent whole.” He said the text too often “disappears into the cavernous reaches of this former railway shed”, but added: “this is a production full of visual delights. There are some wonderful performances too: notably from Joy Fernandes' Bottom who manages to extract laughs without resorting to the over-the-top comic gestures and the frantic mugging that so many British actors feel compelled to do…. a fascinating production that brings fresh insights into this much-produced play…. it's definitely a production for people who at least vaguely know the play. Those who do, and go to this, will be amply rewarded.”
Michael Billington in the Guardian (4 stars) - “Even if I slightly preferred it in the intimate Stratford Swan to the acoustically challenging Roundhouse, it remains a visually ravishing recreation of the play, capturing all its magical strangeness. In this setting, spectacle, music and movement inevitably take precedence. The first great moment comes when the paper-clad back wall of Sumant Jayakrishnan's set is burst asunder by a group of whirling, twirling, frenzied fairies. And the wood itself becomes a place of physical danger, erotic mayhem and startling beauty: when Archana Ramaswamy's Titania shins up a strand of red silk and entwines it round herself to create a womb-like bower, one sees how powerful images reinforce and complement the text…. I was struck by the care taken with text. The lovers, in particular, trade insults with vituperative relish…. Joy Fernandes' Bottom… epitomises the virtues of this production. Fernandes has weight, dignity, and the total dedication of the artisan-turned actor… What this production does brilliantly is create a world on stage: one that has echoes of Ovid, Ted Hughes and the Polish critic, Jan Kott, but is also truly Shakespearean.”
Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard (4 stars) – “Tim Supple's sensational, sexy and spectacular version… particularly targets young audiences bored by Shakespeare. It recovers that sense of magic and enchantment of which the play has been purged by Anglo-Saxon directors…. the intention was… to appeal to eyes and heart rather than ears and minds - to put Shakespeare's language second to the theatrical business of suggesting in fresh ways what madness it is to fall in love…. in the first theatrical coup, fairies burst through those back-walls, which prove no more than frail paper covering for a bamboo climbing-frame. The gulf between the real-life world of the Athenian court and the forest-realm of the fairies or the dreaming unconscious is revealed as no more than a flimsy barrier…. Thanks to Puck's attentions the quarrelsome quartet of lovers, earlier immersed in heavy, sexual grappling, fight it out in that pseudo-boxing ring, where they are caught up in a cat's-cradle of string, stretched from rope to rope. This brilliant directorial conceit suggests just how far they are literally and metaphorically tied up in love. The quartet emerge from the forest quite liberated. West End musical producers spend millions on technology and special effects to try to make magic.
Supple, his actors and designers, together with three musicians whose strings, percussion and wind instruments conjure up gorgeous, atmospheric sound, manage to strike what most of those musicals do not - notes of enchantment.”
Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph - “It is hard to think of a better show to celebrate the end of winter than Tim Supple's magical, mysterious, unforgettably sexy production…. A few will doubtless complain about the loss of the beauties of Shakespeare's language, and I would certainly advise anyone not familiar with the text to read it before seeing the show. But, for theatrical excitement and fresh insight, this vivid Indian Dream… strikes me as being in a class of its own…. Everything seems fresh, spontaneous and positively throbbing with sensuality. Then there are the theatrical coups…. What Supple, his inventive designer Sumant Jayakrishnan and the actors memorably achieve is a clear distinction between the play's three interconnecting dramatic worlds…. Although this is essentially an ensemble production, there are some thrillingly charismatic individual performances. Joy Fernandes is one of the greatest Bottoms I have ever seen, unforgettably fleshy and funny, with a radiant sense of goodwill and self-worth that proves completely captivating.
With her yard-long, raven-black hair and unbuttoned sensuality, Archana Ramaswamy proves a knockout as both Hippolyta and Titania, while Ajay Kumar's mohican-haired Puck has a joyous, amoral mischief about him that seems to capture the essence of this disconcerting comedy.”
Benedict Nightingale in the Times (4 stars) – “Apart from the spectacle and the fun, both of which are considerable, how many revivals come with actors speaking Shakespeare in no fewer than eight languages, Hindi to Tamil, Bengali to ancient Sanskrit to that great unifier of the Raj, English itself? Even those unfamiliar with the play shouldn’t be confused. Most of the funnier and more significant lines are the Bard’s own and, when the actors move into their own languages, the excited body language makes the meaning clear…. Ajay Kumar’s Puck, grinning and prancing and exuding a glee at upsetting human beings that for once justifies Oberon’s accusations of malice, does things with tape that leaves the befogged lovers feeling they’re not merely trapped in a forest but hopping about in a giant game of cat’s cradle…. there is a lot of sensuality in this touring revival, not least when Ramaswamy’s Titania falls for Joy Fernandes’s Bottom: a big, booming soul exuding good nature as well as embarrassment at the aubergine-like phallus that provides low accompaniment to his ass-ears. His fellow mechanicals, impoverished blokes who might be seen in any Calcutta street market, are shaken. So are we, but with laughter.”
- by Caroline Ansdell