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A CurtainUp London Review
A Midsummer Night's Dream
The sublimely careless and powerful fairies are indubitably the strongest point of this production, which is clear from the moment when they first appear, tearing their way through the paper backdrop and fighting each other with wooden poles. These athletic combat sprites are part festival and part vandal, as they cause havoc for the hapless humans and enjoy it. In a visual demonstration of the fairies' whimsical entangling of human affairs, Puck (Ajay Kumar) intricately weaves tape between the fighting lovers, so that they have to duck and leap to perpetrate their four-way squabbling.
Titania's (Archana Ramaswamy) bower is constructed with red silk drapes hanging from the Roundhouse's vast auditorium. The fairies then climb, slide, twirl and hang from them in a dazzling display of acrobatics. Titania curls up inside her drape and remains suspended there whilst the Mechanicals rehearse beneath her. She is completely enclosed like a caterpillar cocoon and seems a natural part of the unearthly Athenian forest. Oberon's (PR Jijoy) magic flower is here a capsule which is crushed into an explosion of red holi powder. Whilst its love-struck victims act outrageously under its influence, their faces remain scarred with colour.
The multilingual script includes Shakespearean English, Hindi, Tamil, Malayaam and even some ancient Sanskrit. For probably everyone, there will be incomprehensible passages, at which point it's time to focus on other elements, such as acting, movement and sound. Fortunately, these are strong enough in this imaginatively-charged production to avoid tedium. In some cases, the polyglot approach is used to specific effect. For example, when Helena (Shanaya Rafaat) argues with Demetrius (Prasanna Mahagamage) their inability to communicate is obvious as they literally speak in different languages. Overall, the linguistic kaleidoscope refreshingly purges this well-known play of its over-familiarity. Of course, for those with no prior knowledge of the play, some of the plot's lucidity might be compromised.
Perhaps because of the multilingual format, the acting is emphatic and visceral. The lovers especially express their high drama with violence and near-rapes a number of times. This interpretation is emotionally charged and vitalistic, and contrasts with the parodic way in which their near-ludicrous wrangling with misdirected desire is often played. Similarly, the royal fairies' power struggle and strict Athenian paternalistic bias are acted out with intense energy. Oberon and Titania wrestle their way across the stage in the midst of a stichomythic exchange and Hermia's father (J Jayakumar) grabs her by the throat to persuade her to marry the suitor of his choice. Only the Mechanicals do not participate with such violence, and even their less slapstick is subdued so that they provide gentler comedy within an exuberant production.
Fittingly for a production which first opened in New Delhi, it is about to embark upon an international tour, visiting cities including Delhi and Mumbai. For London audiences, the run at the Roundhouse's cavernous space is a chance to catch this celebration of intercultural fusion before it is democratically shared with the rest of the world.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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