Last night I went to see a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a circus tent in the grounds of Warwick University, with Andrea. As you know, we are fearless theatre-goers (unless it involves musicals, in which case you will find us quaking under Row D, sobbing into our programmes) and last week endured the delights of a student production of Macbeth complete with strobe lighting and witches in bandages.
Thanks to this we were more than apprehensive about our night at the circus of Shakespeare. I in particular was apprehensived out due to my throbbing headache, lack of sleep and a hideous day spent with three small squawking children which, by the time Andrea got to my house last night, had turned me into a bitch goddess of epic proportions. I almost cancelled, but then when Tallulah came running to me in tears for this sixth time in one afternoon, this time because she had trampolened on her own nose, I felt that it was best to be absent from my dwelling to save me murdering everyone with a shovel.
By the time we got to Warwick my headache tablets had kicked in, my temper had subsided and the wind, which had been howling a gale all day had also died down. All these things made me feel much more chipper and less likely to mope about on my perch, pullling my feathers out and doing my own squawking. We had also ingested large quantities of the Co-op’s very excellent fair trade, stem ginger loaf cake, which helped enormously. I recommend it in times of crisis if you don’t like Rescue Remedy. It’s a sure fire winner baby. Andrea who had spent the last forty eight hours cutting herself to ribbons learning the ancient art of glass cutting and manoeuvring a tonne of top soil around the county in the dead of night, and clearly had problems of her own, agreed with me on the cake. Smiley face and gold star for you.
So. The tentacular delights of Shakespeare? Actually, v. v. good as Bridget Jones would say. Not in the slightest bit traditional, but very entertaining and with moments of deep joy. The company is called Footsbarn Theatre, and it’s their own tent. Have tent, will travel. I quite like the idea of having my own circus tent. Apparently the ginger bloke from Harry Potter has spent all his filmic earnings on his own personal ice cream van, which also sounds like a good idea. I must put big top and ice cream van down on my list of things to buy when I’m ridiculously rich.
Andrea and I discussed fake blood on the way home last night. She was commenting on the fact that in this production they used silk scarves, and was it a Japanese thing (there were oriental elements to the play)? I said I thought it was more to do with the nature of having to get fake blood stains out of a big top and the prohibitive cost of dry cleaning. You can tell I spend all day looking after children.
The company is based in France. They spend all winter practicing in the Auvergne and then dust the tent off to zoom around the world putting on productions in five languages and seeing how many props they can squash into a portaloo in between gigs. The language barrier was apparent in spades last night. As mentioned, they had gone a bit oriental and had some Japanese cast members, who when they weren’t mangling Erizabeefan into Engrish, were doing brilliantly in Japanese. Titania was Japanese. She was a dab hand at ribbon waving on a stick (told you it wasn’t traditional), but her speeches were somewhat earifically challenging. I actually thought that at one point I was listening with such concentration that my ears were bending round to reach her. Such is the power of drama to affect us. Let that be a lesson to you.
Puck was a Japanese masked warrior who looked like a Lion Dog and kept making little Bruce Lee style yaps and clicks in between engirdling the earth in forty minutes. His voice was somewhat trying, probably due to the large mask as well as his own personal linguistic wrestling matches with the bard. He was a dab hand at waving flowers into lover’s eyes though. I’ll give him that.
There were lots of masks, which were very cool. Hardcore masks, not cutesy masks. I mean they didn’t look like bank robbers or the members of Slipknot or anything, but they weren’t pretty pretty. The fairies all looked like something Arthur Rackham would have cooked up after a particularly heavy night on the fromage and port, and were quite twisted and cool, particularly the midget one that had a big bouncy dress, a la Upsy Daisy in In the Night Garden, the nightmare version. It was more Goblin Market than Cicely Mary Barker on a commemorative plate.
Before I go any further, for those of you who are not up on the world of Mr. S, here is another potted version, Katy stylie. Theseus is the Duke of Athens. He’s going to marry his lady love, Hippolyta (both of whom in this version looked like Herne The Hunter in Robin Hood, the one with Michael Praed in it, not the new, crap one). On the same day, a nobleman called Aegeus is hoping to marry his only daughter, Hermia to a man called Demetrius. Demetrius loves Hermia. Hermia loathes Demetrius. Hermia loves Lysander. Aegeus thinks Lysander is a feckless waster and says that unless she marries Demetrius she will either be killed or have to become a nun. Harsh, but fair these fictional Athenian nobles.
In the meantime, Helena, who is Hermia’s friend is in love with Demetrius. Demetrius used to be in love with Helena until he met Hermia. He gives Helena the brush off because he thinks with his knob and is an unpleasant little man. She is not best pleased and turns into his number one stalker, thinking foolishly that this will make her appear more attractive to him and win him back, while in fact it makes her look like a bit of a mentaller and he runs a mile, screaming. While she is stalking Demetrius, Hermia and Lysander agree to meet in the woods at night time and run away from Athens where they can get married in peace. Hermia tells Helena and Helena, thinking that she can win favour with Demetrius, tells him everything. They go to the woods too. Demetrius wants to kidnap Hermia and Helena wants to stalk Demetrius while he’s doing it.
While they’re all wandering around the woods, Titania and Oberon the king and queen of the fairies are also in the woods having a big fight over an Indian boy that they both want to keep as a pet (like a chinchilla, but less sandy). Oberon is cross because Titania won’t give him up. He orders Puck, his naughty fairy servant to squish some flower juice into her eyes while she is sleeping, which will make her fall in love with the first thing she sees when she wakes up. That’ll learn her.
In the meantime a bunch of peasants (the simples) are practising a play in honour of the Duke’s upcoming wedding. They all have hilarious names like Bottom and are very stupid. They do lots of clowning around and punning on sex and put on a bizarre play about the thwarted lovers Pyramus and Thisbe who get eaten by lions. They decide to go and practice in the woods at midnight (as all good theatre companies do).
This means everyone is running around the woods in a hilarious ‘Oops! There go my bloomers!’ kind of way, and Puck creates mayhem by squirting this love potion in all the wrong people’s eyes. Eventually Titania falls in love with the peasant Bottom, who is now, for unexplained reasons dressed as an ass and Lysander and Demetrius are now both in love with Helena. Vicars fall out of cupboards, bosoms explode, fire is eaten and much braying is enjoyed by everyone.
Oberon eventually sweeps down and sorts everyone out and makes all the right people fall in and out of love. It ends with everyone getting married happily, the peasants play going on and Thisbe’s comedy breasts exploding spectacularly.
So, imagine all this in a big top, with only six cast members, two bassoon players wearing glasses and Elizabethan English being mangled in French, English and Japanese. Include, if you will, false teeth, lots of spit, ribbon twirling, a man who looked unnervingly like Richard thingy from The Crystal Maze and comedy breasts, and you will pretty much be there with us. The simples were fantastic and did huge amounts of ad libbing and mucking around with the audience. I particularly liked the way they pronounced sword as s- wooord and am now going to make it my own for any s wooord fight in which I happen to be embroiled.
The audience did their part and talked, chattered, whooped and generally joined in for all they were worth. There were a lot of kids in the audience, one of whom had an uncanny knack for shouting out in the quiet bits. Things like: ‘It’s a donkey!’ when Bottom first appeared as an ass, and ‘Ow!’ when Thisbe’s boobs exploded etc, etc. It was like panto, only better. If only we could have shot the teenagers behind us who insisted on chatting to each other throughout the entire performance it would have been a complete success. I did think about taking them on but I was full of ginger cake and only just over my headache, so decided to let sleeping teenagers chatter.