Theatre review: A Midsummer Night's Dream (Perth Festival). Clive Paget

2014, Limelight

Deadpan Shakespeare, Russian-style, makes for an evening of divine mayhem and madness.

On arrival, the seats at His Majesty’s are covered in dustsheets, while the wooden stage is clad in plastic. The chandelier is still in its wrappings. We’re here to see the Dmitry Krymov Laboratory from Moscow but it looks suspiciously like the decorators are in. All of a sudden, the side doors of the theatre burst open and a dozen yelling and shouting workmen start attempting to manhandle a huge tree-cum-stage-prop up and over the audience – it’s like your biggest dodgy Polish removalists nightmare come to life. They’ve even brought the dog!
 
A fountain follows, dripping water that needs to be caught in buckets, a fair amount of which spills over the audience (ushers bustle about with towels to help the unfortunate). This is a singularly Russian-eye view of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and these are Shakespeare’s mechanicals. A bunch of extravagantly clad toffs are next on the scene, clambering over the chairs to become a makeshift audience and engaging in all the annoying things that a badly behaved crowd of first-nighters get up too with mobile phones and the like. Frankly, they’re as bad as the mechanicals. Chaos reins and pretty much does so for the next hour-and-a-half of theatrical madness, mayhem and magic.
 
Krymov is an award-winning painter, set designer and director, and his view of the Pyramus and Thisbe section of Shakespeare’s play is a unique mix of theatre, clowning, music, puppetry and acrobatics that manages to be true to the spirit (and a lot of the text) of the Bard while going off-piste to some pretty left-field comedy zones along the way. It’s very, very funny, poking fun at both those who give us contemporary theatre and those of us who go, and while not everyone will get everything it’s got a heart as big as the two giant puppets that play the doomed lovers.
 
The deadpan presentational approach of the mechanicals is entirely appropriate. They really do believe in their play and their extravagant means of conveying it. The grab-bag of avant-garde theatrical devices from which they pull their bonkers ideas (including singing fragments of Dichterliebe in keys obscurely related to the musical accompaniment of flute, percussion, harpsichord, even bagpipes) generally translate into any language and the comedia-inspired slapstick is to die for.
 
It's not all belly-laughs (the world's longest pee in a bucket went over some heads), but by and large the jokes, whether physical or literary, manage to land. The design and lighting are outstanding, culminating in the final sequence with the death of Pyramus and Thisbe. The moment where the former literally comes apart at the seams is surprisingly touching.
 
Among the players, Boris Opletaev as a glum-visaged wannabe-Shakespeare figure and Alla Pokrovskaya as the middle-aged, middle-class playgoer who can’t keep her opinions to herself are comedy gold (her shaggy dog story about a lion, the police, a butcher’s wife and a champagne bottle tickled my funny bone at least). The enormous cast includes 20 overseas performers and more than a dozen local recruits, plus Perth’s Steps Youth Dance Company who may not realise yet just how funny they are. The dog (name of Scout), a last minute Aussie ring-in after their regular pooch fell victim to Russian export controls, is delightfully random.
 
As I said, not everyone will laugh at everything and there might be a beneficial 10-minute trim somewhere in the proceedings, but for invention, originality and a way of mixing Shakespearean populism with Chekhovian mood in a cocktail of comedy and clowning this is one hell of a night at the theatre.
 
http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au 
 
by Clive Paget, Limelight, 15.02.2014

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- not your usual Shakespeare. Claire Bickers

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