This fantastic production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like It) produces hilariously sustained magic on a large scale.
Comments around me include: ‘that’s avant garde!’; ‘so bizarre’; and ‘ this is really out there’, as we are sprinkled with water, wood chips and dry Russian humour satirising a stuffy theatrical audience in this major re-telling of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And yes, this experimental theatrical production, which has been pared down to the simplicity of the love story of Thisbe and Pyramus (played by five-metre-high rod puppets), and the focus on the group of labourers known as the Mechanicals does work. Writ large with beautifully sung German Lieder love songs, and awkwardly poignant sweet-as-hell puppets operated by the black-suited Mechanicals group of 11, this very funny production wins over most of its full-house audience in the first half an hour.
One of the key theatre events for the Perth International Arts Festival 2014, this surreal re-imagining of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is funny, creative, and authentically Russian. It was originally created for the World Shakespeare Festival performed in London in 2012, and is having its Australian premiere in Perth by the Chekhov International Theatre Festival and School of Dramatic Art Theatre, directed by Dmitry Krymov. Performed by a group including musicians, actors, opera singers, stagehands, circus performers and well-known Russian television actors, and aided by supernumeraries from Perth’s theatre scene, as well as a Perth children’s dance company and even a performing dog, there seems to be an abundance of performers that are not all credited – a delight when so much modern theatre is often pared down.
In an extraordinary piece of direction by Krymov, this is performed with genuine integrity, musicality and passion by its huge cast of performers and is like nothing I have ever seen. With design by Vera Martynova, and beautiful yet realistic puppets by Viktor Platonov – which mean the young boy in the row in front of me cringes for the puppets every time they topple over. The fact that this show engages its audience nearly completely for its 105 minute, no-interval run, and spends most of the time making them laugh and gasp, says a lot for the magic and craft of brilliantly imagined theatre.
The performance starts with a discussion by the Mechanicals as to whether the work is actually going to happen, in a subtle sideways reference to Shakespeare’s ‘play within a play’ format. It then elaborates on the difficulties of creative work – opinions differ - and the Mechanicals conclude that the play is about a lover who kills himself for love (comparisons to the greatest love story include Adam and Eve, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Peter Tchaikovsky and his coachmen…).
There is also commentary on theatre performance when the performance’s theatre ‘guests’ troop on stage and we are now officially in the avant-garde mode (as evidenced by the frequent interruptions by one of our voluble older ‘guests’). Other examples include the Mechanicals explanation of the imminent performance (‘it’s not quite ready… we’re not sure we care about whether you enjoy it or not’) and when our excitable older lady declares ‘this is modern art’ - while others debate whether a visit to the zoo is not a better idea. The allusion to both the original Shakespeare, and the audiences’ dismissal of art when they are expecting ‘entertainment’, lingers on in one’s mind.
One of the key points to note about this performance is that the traditional distinctions between performer and viewer are blurred with both the ‘lights up’ on the audience more often than not, and the interplay between performers and their ‘theatre guests’ onstage. Despite not quite knowing what to expect, the distinctly foreign (to me) Russian language, and the huge five metre puppets interacting with their dour-faced black suited handlers, this fantastic production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like It) produces hilariously sustained magic on a large scale. They capture Shakespeare’s original theatrical effect of waking as if from a dream in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Additionally, superlative acting, singing and poignant puppetry enact the loss of individual identities in the merging of interconnecting Shakespearean plots.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like It)
Chekhov International Theatre Festival, School of Dramatic Art Theatre and Dmitry Krymov Laboratory.
Director Dmitry Krymov
Set and Costume Design Vera Martynova
Composer/Director of Music Kuzma Bodrov
Puppets Viktor Platonov
Technical director/Lighting Design Ivan Vinogradov
Sound Design Andrey Zachesov
Producer Valery Shadrin
Cast: Ivan Barakin, Vladimir Churkin, Vadim Dubrovin, Valery Garkalin, Natalia Gorchakova, Maria Gulik, Valery Guryanov, Arkady Kirichenko, Alexey Kokhanov, Andrey Loshkin, Maxim Maminov, Sergey Melkonyan, Sergey Nazarov, Boris Opletaev, Alla Pokrovskaya, Anna Sinyakina, Anton Telkov, Mikail Umanets, Anatoly Shustov, Vladimir Shustov and supplemented by a group of Perth actors and the Steps Youth Dance Company.
His Majesty’s Theatre, Hay St
Perth International Arts Festival
14 - 19 February
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