P R Jijoy
Chandan Roy Sanyal
Ashwatthama J D
Lakhan Pawar/Ram Pawar
The Camden Roundhouse, with its high vaulting ceiling and arena-like feel, is the perfect venue for Tim Supple’s exciting and fast-moving take on Shakespeare’s most popular comedy. This production is an extraordinary enterprise. It brings together actors, dancers and musicians from all over India and Sri Lanka and they perform the play in a combination of eight languages English, Tamil, Malayalam, Sinhalese, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi and even a bit of Sanskrit.
Why might be a legitimate question, as it means very few people are going to get more than a partial understanding of the text but, for those with at least some knowledge of the play, the emotional content and storytelling is crystal clear. For English speakers, there’s enough of the original text to keep us in touch with the familiar.
The polyglot approach renders it very dependent upon the physicality of the performance and it certainly delivers on this score. From the moment the fairies burst through the paper walls, this is highly physical theatre and the actors throw themselves into it with great energy and commitment. There’s a constant sense of movement that drives the performance along at great speed.
Supple’s direction is constantly inventive. Actors run up ropes and cocoon themselves in hanging ribbons high above the audience. A maze of tapes created around the actors becomes a tangle of forest that they leap over, duck under and get entangled in. They clamber all over the framework of bamboo scaffolding, the lovers even clinging to it while sleeping.
Sensuousness pervades the play and also, alongside the comedy antics, a sense of underlying violence. When Oberon and Puck administer the potion, it is done by attacking the victim and smearing red powder over the face, which has a real feeling of violation.
Authentic sounds from percussion and string instruments accompany the action and there are plenty of opportunities for the actors to burst into frantic and intoxicating dance sequences.
This is a great ensemble of 22 actors but to highlight a few stand-out performances, there’s a masculine and commanding Oberon/Theseus from PR Jijoy, a supple and sexy Titania/Hippolyta from Archana Ramaswamy and a joyfully pompous Bottom in Joy Fernandes (complete with all the equipment you expect from a man turned donkey). I also particularly enjoyed the earnest Peter Quince of Ashwatthama JD and Ajay Kumar’s doubling of Philostrate and Puck.
The production has played all over India and also visited Stratford for the RSC’s Complete Works Festival last Summer. This six-week run at the Camden Roundhouse precedes a tour around the UK during the rest of the year.
For a refreshing and very entertaining take on a play that can all too often be tired and twee, this is a memorable experience and will appeal to a wide audience. Like Peter Brook’s 1970 Dream, this is one that’s sure to be talked about for years to come, so catch it while you can.