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Shakespeare on Stage

August 29, 2012

During the break, I went to see a totally different version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park.

 Different, because (contains spoilers from now on, so stop reading now) though the text is present, the whole was presented as a bunch of “travellers” (the Chav type) – building site workers transformed into the mortals with whose lives the fairies (left as fairies) play.

 A few quibbles with why they left the fairies as they were aside, it was one of the most involving productions of Shakespeare I’ve ever seen. Question was, why?

Answer, because, just like the audiences in Shakespeare’s day, it was done in a way to which the audience could relate. The modern costumes made it easy to recognise characters, and allowed popular culture references throughout. The finale, inspired by hit Channel 4 series “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” made the ending crystal clear, and if the director chose to indulge a whim or two, no matter.

Further, the row between the girls over their men, which took place in yells over the heads of the front stalls as the men brawled in the gangways, were simply thrilling theatre. Forget the barrier of “old language,” the meaning and indeed every word was clear. The meaning of every line was instantly grasped by even a newcomer to Shakespeare (I had one with me).

Since the Olympics (BIG cheer for all of it, every bit, and all who made it happen, btw, and here’s to the ParaOlympics, can’t wait) there’s been a lot of stuff said about getting schoolchildren involved in sport. Money has been set aside, and it looks like a miserable time for those who are just no good at such things and would prefer to do something that gives them a better chance of a high-earning career.

In other words, even up the score and put cash into taking children to see Shakespeare. This production in particular. It’s no good doing what happened to me – putting us in the charge of the World’s Worst English Teacher and making us “read round the class” a bunch of meaningless words from tatty copies of the script book. Then asking us to look for “meanings” where there are none beyond the words… and issuing pointless essays.

Almost as bad, the “befriend the kiddies” teacher of the “thicker group” had them prancing round a dustbin chanting spells from the Scottish Play. Great… except there’s more to it than that scene – and once they found that out, the sense of betrayal was even greater – particularly when the written assignment arrived.

I was lucky. More or less able to ignore the teacher, I’d seen plenty of Shakespeare before I was lumbered with the useless object, so I was able to tune them out and get on with it. How many others in my class were that lucky? None: hence, audience lost.

What I’m asking, as I say, is subsidy to improve this. I mean, it’s not as if I didn’t try and meet the sports lot half way. I think I would’ve enjoyed the Olympic pole vault event if they’d let me stay to watch. I had the perfect view from my seat behind that fantastic cauldron. Is it MY fault that a pole vaulter happily let me try out the carbon fibre pole… which inspired me to put a marshmallow on the end and turn it gently over the flames…

I mean, there was nothing on the back of the ticket about not making use of the free barbecue facilities, and I bought the marshmallow in the stadium. Oh well…

That’s a joke, by the way. Like most Londoners, I didn’t get tickets, but on TV, what a  show! Now, let’s brush up our children’s minds as much as their bodies, eh?

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