Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Three Midsummers in Fall

While we were abroad we took N. to three very different productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream.  As it happens, Midsummer is far from Tim's or my favorite play!  But we all got to know it a lot better over the past 4 months.  As I've mentioned before, when we take N. to see Shakespeare (Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, and Othello) we don't read the play with him beforehand, but tell him a brief outline of the plot and hope the magic of theatre will do the rest.  He's started to express an interest in reading the plays, so I expect we will do so in the future.

[Grandage's production.  Photo by Johan Persson]
The first Midsummer we went to was a big West End production in London, directed by Michael Grandage and with Sheridan Smith as Titania and David Walliams as Bottom (English stars unfamiliar to me).  It was a very loud production, in all senses.  Perhaps due to the acoustics of the Noel Coward Theatre, the actors shouted a lot to express emotion (especially Helena). The fairy scenes were set and costumed as some kind of 1960s-70s orgy replete with pot-smoking, which required some delicate explaining at the interval!  And the rude mechanicals' play was as campy and over-the-top as it could possibly be.  I didn't love it, but N. enjoyed it.  He especially liked Puck.

[Britten at the Komische Oper.  Photo source]
Then on our 10-day trip to Berlin in October, we went to a production of Benjamin Britten's opera version of Midsummer.  This was sung in German, as all productions are at the Komische Oper; the unanticipated benefit for N. was that he could follow the words in the English translation on the seat-backs in front of us so he had a chance to read a version of the play and get to know it a bit better.  The libretto appeared to be fairly faithful to Shakespeare.  Although this was an utterly strange production (the boys in the chorus was costumed not as fairies but as old men, everyone on stage was randomly strewing enormous teddy bears around, the lovers reverse-aged over the course of the opera for no discernible reason), it gave us a lot to talk about as we compared and contrasted it to the version we'd seen a couple weeks earlier.

[Propeller's version.  Photo: Dominic Clemence]
And in November we saw a production of Midsummer in Bath at the Theatre Royal by the wonderful all-male company Propeller.  It was perfect!  It actually made me like the play!  It was lighthearted and delicate and affecting and funny and moving.  We all loved it.  The production design, nuanced acting, costuming, and music were all so well-calibrated.  In some ways it was even more off-beat than the West End production that was trying so hard to be edgy.  This was challenging without being gimmicky.  N. had fun thinking about how and why it worked to have men playing all the roles, and again we got to do lots of comparing and contrasting.

I can't imagine there will ever be another time in our lives when we see three different professional productions of the same play in three months.  N. was already a fan of Shakespeare, and this experience made him even more so.  Seeing three Midsummers initiated him into the seemingly endless interpretive possibilities a Shakespeare play offers.


Erica MomandKiddo said...

These all sound like such interesting productions. I just saw Julie Taymor's Midsummer a few weeks ago. It was marvelous. I think it's a great first Shakespeare play for kids.

Fanny Harville said...

We never got to The Light Princess, by the way... :(

Erica MomandKiddo said...

Oh, too bad. I'm hoping maybe it comes to Broadway, like Matilda did.

CMR said...

sounds wonderful.