Borderless 'Dream'; Shakespeare's Comedy Is Transposed to India
Power, Carla, Newsweek International
Byline: Carla Power
For Londoners, who live in a city where one in three inhabitants is foreign-born, there's nothing more banal than exotica. Except, perhaps, for yet another production of a Shakespeare comedy. So it's testimony to British director Tim Supple that even jaded Londoners are surprised by his rich and strange new production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which re-imagines the comedy as a bawdy romp through rural India. Athens becomes a village built on a stage of red earth hauled to North London from Rajasthan. Mismatched lovers couple and recouple in a jungle of bamboo scaffolding and scarlet silks. Most controversially, the dialogue tumbles out in eight South Asian languages, and English, spoken by 23 Indian and Sri Lankan actors. Somehow, it comes together intelligibly.
"Dream" has a long history of association with India. The country is embedded in the text, with fairy monarchs Oberon and Titania quarrelling over Titania's adoption of an Indian boy. It's probably the Subcontinent's most-performed Shakespeare play, notes Ananda Lal of Kolkata's Jadavpur University. There have been numerous translations into Indian languages--including one into ancient Sanskrit text--and South Asian productions of the comedy date back more than two centuries. One 19th-century version styled Oberon and Titania as Hindu gods.
What's particularly ambitious--and controversial--about Supple's production is that it draws on actors, languages and performance traditions from across the Subcontinent. His "Dream" gathers Bollywood actors and classically trained dancers on the same stage as folk drummers and child acrobats from the Delhi slums. The linguistic diversity is dizzying: Titania and Oberon spar in Malayalam, Lysander woos Hermia in Bengali and Helena pursues Demetrius in the polished English of the Mumbai elite--only to be rebuffed in the Sri Lankan language of Sinhala. Opting for a polyglot production, says Supple, known in Britain for his innovative work at the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company, wasn't a political choice. …