Saanjha Sapna’s adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” takes a village side view

Three writers on three economic classes in a play with three stories. Trip Venturella, who plays Nick Bottom in the play, warned director Ishwar Shunya of the risks of fooling around with Shakespeare. But like Lysander he believes, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

This Sunday, The Midsummer Nightmare, will play at New Delhi’s Alliance Française. Besides Shakespeare’s original and its modern English adaptation, Shunya has also taken from Raghuvir Sahay’s Baghro Basant and Habib Tanvir’s Kamdev ka Apna Basant Ritu ka Sapna — both adaptations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“Shakespeare’s script is poetic and Sahay’s adaptation matches that beautifully. But the last scene, by Tanvir in Urdu, was the best,” says Shunya. The play however is not in Tanvir’s folk style. “It is a modern play. It is Physical Theatre (like Ratan Thiyam’s) with dance-like movements. Also it is very dream-like, not realistic,” he explains.

He adds, “We’ve edited some scenes and done away with a few characters. The story is the same but the setting is India.” The fairies, Theseus and Hippolyta, speak Elizabethan English, the other Athenians speak contemporary English and the Mechanicals or villagers speak Hindi, Urdu and other dialects. Class contours are emphasised.

“We’re doing it from the perspective of the village people. The way they see the plot is our twist. What is fun for the upper classes is the livelihood of the lower classes. The innocence of the latter is contrasted with the guile of the former,” he says.

Shunya has directed three serious plays recently — Valentin Krasnogorov’s Let’s Have Sex followed by Dario Fo and Franca Rame’s Orgasm and Trace Crawford’s The Sum of Your Experiences. Varoon P. Anand won best actor in the last play at the Short+Sweet Festival.

“I wanted to take a break from the intensity and do something funny. The sets as always are simple. I wanted to hang ropes to create a forest, but the auditorium didn’t allow it,” he says before rushing off for a rehearsal for another production, this time by Gargi College. Broke as ever, his troupe Saanjha Sapna is rehearsing at Lodi Gardens.

The surrealist posters of course are gratis, courtesy Kanchan, his wife. Theseus’ speech to Hermia — “But earthlier happy is the rose distilled, Than that which withering on the virgin thorn, Grows, lives, and dies in single blessedness”— holds true for Shunya.