Well, some of you may be wondering how I enjoyed A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Stratford. It was the first production I signed up to see before I decided to stay overnight and I haven’t talked about it yet. I haven’t been quite sure how I felt about it.
I’ve never believed that homosexuals should be discriminated against and while I don’t know very many gays (and those I do know, I don’t know well) I don’t think I’m prejudiced but nor do I pretend to understand it. I haven’t decided whether I was uncomfortable with the presentation on a social level or just upset with the fact that they tampered with Shakespeare. I don’t know if it was meant to be a political tool for gay rights or just an unusual approach to the bard’s work. I better explain.
The play began with a scene that wasn’t Shakespeare. Two men in white, modern-day suits emerge from center stage having just been married. The rest of the cast surrounding the stage cheer them, they kiss and then sit down in two throne-like chairs facing the stage while the wedding guests decide what form the nuptial festivities should take. They decide to have a play and, after several suggestions, agree on A Midsummer Night’s Dream (which worked out nicely since that was what we had all paid to come and see). All of the cast not part of the fairy world were in modern day clothes. Props were backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, and a big gas barbeque.
The part of Lysander was not only played by a woman but as a woman. Titania was played by Evan Buliung in drag in a white, strapless bridal gown (obviously designed for him since he had no way of keeping up a ladies’ gown); a hairy chest and back were clearly revealed. Related pronouns from the original text had been changed to correspond to the change in gender. Parts of the play were wild with slapstick, the ‘pie in the face’ routine being replaced by ‘cake in the face’, people kept falling into or were pushed into the stream, water was splashed all over the place. The children who played the parts of fairies, and Gabriel Long as the sentinal were wonderful, not only their speaking parts but their singing and dancing was excellent. The little girl who played the changeling child was sweet. Chick Reid was delightful as Puck and Michael Spencer-Davis (as Egeus) used sign language and had an interpreter. All in all, it was quite an unusual performance.
I understand that directors may want to try something new with Shakespeare to make their production stand out from others or to give it modern day appeal. But looking around the theatre that day, most of the audience was my age or older while the rest were school children. I think for people of my generation, much of the appeal of Shakespearean plays is the pomp and circumstance and the wonderful pagentry of the costumes. To see many of the players in basically modern dress always bothers me. Also, it’s the older people mostly who make the large donations annually that keep Stratford Festival up and running. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of them weren’t particularly comfortable with the changes in the script. I don’t think Shakespeare needs to be changed to have appeal. I’m still curious as to what the chamber production beginning in July will be like. I’ll let you know if I decide to go. Let me know what you think: do innovations with Shakespeare ruin the play? should Shakespeare be played as Shakespeare wrote it? or is it anything goes?