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Of red earth and satin dreams

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AWESOME: A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo: R. Ragu
AWESOME: A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo: R. Ragu

GEETA DOCTOR

The richness of the experience is a testimony to the enduring power of Shakespeare and the brilliance of director Tim Supple.

It was like falling into a black hole of suffocating dreams.Surrounded by black curtains blocking the entrance and at the sides and back, seated on black covered seats, with purple lights transforming the faces of the audience into spectral forms, swimming through the sticky heat waving their freely donated hand-held fans like giant fins was more nightmare than the promise of a Shakespearean dream event. For the first night audience at the open to sky theatre space at Nandanam, the first 45 minutes waiting for Tim Supple's much awaited directorial venture of ``A Midsummer Night's Dream" underlined the themes of darkness, claustrophobia and the loss of a sense of self that the play conjures. The show to be repeated today (April 21) at the same venue, 7.30 p.m., is sponsored by the British Council, U.K. and the Hutch. That the audience could wake up, after such a disastrous start and be transformed by the power of the sheer wealth and richness of the theatrical experience is a testimony to the enduring power of Shakespeare and a brilliantly innovative director such as Supple. There are so many questions that come to mind. Not all of them can be answered by watching just one show. The first one of course is this: can a play that mixes so many different languages, seven different ones according to the notes be considered a faithful rendering of Shakespeare's most lyrical of texts? Within the very first moments you are shocked into imagining that this is a play being performed entirely in gibberish, it's like watching the cage of primates at a Zoo. You know that they are trying to communicate something, but you can't follow anything.Very soon, however, because of this first disruption in what you imagine is the basic need of theatre — language that too Shakespearean language, that is almost sacred to those who have been trained in it — you have to pay a much greater attention to the sounds, the intonation and the body language.

Different tongues

The result is that you find yourself understanding (almost) the dialogue in Bengali, Malayalam, Sinhala and so forth just as easily as you recognise the famous lines of the original text. It's like being stuck in an airport where you can half understand all the announcements that are being made in different tongues. You become that much more alert. There's also the magical musical score devised by Devissaro and performed live that underscores the theme of dislocation, confusion, seduction, sexual heat and also enchantment that is woven through the Dream. Tim Supple not only relies on the idea that most people know the story, as it were and even if they do not, will recognise the crossed connections that the play so skilfully suggests.More than anything however is the visual excitement that the production pulls off with a sort of imaginative brio and exhilaration that owes everything to the cast, the Director's inventive energy and to all those involved in constructing the set. In part it may be a tribute to Peter Brook, who brought back the circus arena of theatre. There is an enormous Mandela-shaped platform filled with red earth on which the actors roll around with complete abandon. In front of it, there is a trough filled with water and a somewhat uselessly symbolic Sivalinga that is lustrated by the Philostrate Puck character, the only one that truly did not live up to his reputation and was inclined to jar by his outré hairstyle and his Maitre D' manners. The first scene suggests a rich satin covered floor bedroom, or palace with white papered walls, in the last moments before sleep sets in and you begin to dream. The satin coverlet is pulled in one marvellous visual gesture through a small doorway and you are left with the red earth and violent sexual play.

Visual delight

There are so many brilliant moments of visual delight that have been created by Sumant Jaikrishnan the set and costume designer, that one can briefly touch upon a couple. In one of them the actors tear through the walls of paper and hang, make love, sleep through the interstices of the bamboo scaffolding, just as you might see the people crammed in the tenements of our cities. The other is a scene of Titania suspended by swathes of red cloth hanging from the airy branches of the trees and all her fairy guard turning somersaults in the air on ropes. It is breathtaking. It is an awesome production that fills every dark chink and bright moment of the Midsummer's night's Dream.


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