Tag Archives: A Midsummer Nights Dream

Give Me Your Hands

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On adaptation and versions of Shakespeare and particularly Russell T Davies Adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on BBC4. This I discover was actually made in 2016.

 

There are lots of reasons to edit and transpose in Shakespeare. I am certainly not averse to it and have a whole chapter on the subject in ‘What Country Friends Is This?’ my new book to be published by NHB later in the year. Michael Chekhov wrote, way back in the middle of the 20th century, that Shakespeare often needed editing and shaping for a modern audience. But as Peter Brook warned in Evoking (and Forgetting!) Shakespeare, to modernise, cut or transpose meant that you had to be fully aware of the consequences.

There are lots of things we might challenge in the Dream; the over-arching idea that heterosexual love and marriage was the natural and only way out of conflict; that it is ok for the ruler Theseus to conquer  the Amazons and then to marry their queen whilst the blood is still soaking into the battlefield; that it is ok to have the king of the Fairies to destroy the environment and fight with his queen over possession of a changeling boy and then to get his revenge by bewitching her into having sex with (essentially) an animal.

All of these problems were faced head-on in a feast of pyrotechnical skill and pace with clever editing and truncating of plot, and some very nice use of language (though of course the edits were enormous). It opened us to different sorts of love, which was great. But for me it did not fully work in a very fundamental way. I want to look at just a couple of things.

At the centre of this problem are the roles of Theseus and Hippolyta, to my mind two of the most underwritten parts in Shakespeare. Unless they are played by the same actors playing Titania and Oberon who play out the warring conflict of Theseus and Hippolyta in a poetic way, then they are nearly always unsatisfactory. Davies’ solution to this was a bold one. He made the kingdom of Athens a totalitarian state, Theseus a fascist madman and Hipployta a kind of fairy creature (I won’t elaborate in case you haven’t seen it) . I remember when I worked on this play in ’08 I toyed with something similar but felt that unless I changed the play completely, it simply would not carry through. In the TV adaptation it meant (and this is not a bad idea) what happens in the forest somehow liberates and frees everyone in Athens itself. That is intrinsic to the play but somehow does not always happen in production.

The speech of Theseus in Act V “I never may believe these antique fables” where he decries and rubbishes the lovers’ story of the forest and love and imagination in total is the complete opposite of what the play is telling us. Shakespeare had great faith in romantic love, even though everyone does not end up a winner (look at Twelfth Night). So, if we are looking for a polarity, this cynical, superior, materialistic speech is a dynamic to explore and set against the thrust of the play. When I did a production of this play in 08 I gave that speech to Egeus, who is the one person in the original who is not happy about the young lovers’ decision. He was mobbed and pursued by the fairies and chased from the stage. To keep the speech with Theseus makes it completely unbelievable that he would pardon the lovers for the transgression and have them marry with him.  In answer to this criticism you might say to me, “this is a fantasy”. Yes it is a fantasy but one that needs an emotional logic for the actors to play. For John Hannah I really felt for a moment his characterisation was squeezed by the demands of the adaptation.  Had he somehow made it look that his decision to pardon them was in order to make his own marriage look acceptable, I feel this would have gone with the concept. In other words, that he needed those young lovers to legitimise his own marriage.

A similar problem occurred with Titania and Oberon. By cutting the changeling child and making the argument between Titania and Oberon about Titania’s love for Hippolyta (a neat idea considering how badly Theseus treats her), that idea needed to be followed through in Oberon’s character trajectory. Despite some beautiful moments, the character of Oberon who should go on this big journey in the adaptation was lost. A key moment was a line change in Act 4 Sc3  “Oh how mine eyes do loathe his visage now” which Titania says when she awakes from the enchantment when she sees her ass-headed lover, but it was changed to “Oh how mine eyes do loathe thy visage now” as a jibe to Oberon but said as a joke…. So hey presto, he puts her under a spell to humiliate herself and she says, ‘ha, fair cop,love!” It was another moment where a decision made in the adaptation did not for me sit well with the actors.

Like many adaptations, I felt somehow that in some of these crucial journies and atmospheres director, writer and actors were not quite on the same page. So despite some great energy, for me this made it rather superficial. Why, for instance were the mechanicals not terrified at the Duke’s Palace when they did the play? An atmosphere was explored here later in the scene but they should have come in with this expectation that, though this was an honour, it was dangerous. Having said this, the adaptation and the acting hit some really good notes, not least Flute’s final speech as Thisbe (Which, by the way, we would have been much better to stay with rather than constantly cutting back to the demise of Theseus – you need to see it).

Though I liked Maxine Peake (Titania)  and  Nonso Anozie (Oberon) for me the acting that sat best with the adaptation was Puck (Hiran Abeysekera) , Lysander (Matthew Tennyson), Hermia.(Priska Bakare)  and finally  Flute(Fisayo Akinade).

The one thing that really annoyed me though was the continual music track. For me the words are music enough, at least for some of the time.

 

 

 

 

Nothing Like Medea – working with Archetypes

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Shannon McHugh and Cillian Hegarty using an Archetype exercise in The Bacchae 2016

“I mean, how could I possibly play Medea from my own life experience?”  said one of my wonderful teachers, as I sat completely overwhelmed after one of the early workshops I attended in the Michael Chekhov Technique, “There has got to be a way of finding her truth through Imagination and the Body”. Then she smiled and was gone for her lunch.

And the more I have worked with the Technique the more I have understood the massive palette this way of working has given me to rehearse, direct and teach.

One of the most powerful ways into the work on character is through The Archetype and Archetypal energy. This expression of the Archetype in acting class often gives rise to people assuming that an archetype is a stereotype; in other words something superficial: but it isn’t.  Consider the archetype as an energy, rather than an obvious cartoon character and you are on the right track. That way you can really explore the profundity of what the Archetype can give you.

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Ciara Brady and William Loughnane as Titania and Oberon

In the next Chekhov Weekend here, (June 21-23) we will be seeking some connection to this archetypal energy, and then using it to build our character, exploring archetypes using A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

On the surface, there are a lot of obvious archetypes in this play. Kings, Queens, Fairies, Clowns, Actors, Lovers, Fathers, Servants and exploring these archetypes is useful for us because we often have no experience of many of these qualities in our modern life.

 

 

 

I remember spending time, when I was directing The Duchess of Malfi,  exploring with the actors what it was like to be The Servant, not just in a realistic sense but finding this profound archetypal energy to understand  the psychology of those characters who were servants.

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Muirreann Ni Raghallaigh, Zita Monahan, Reidin Ni Thuama and Eoin Dillon  as Cariola, The Duchess, A Nurse and Antonio respectively. The Duchess of Malfi: Theatrecorp 2016

But there are several layers to this “way into” the character, and one thing we need to consider is  what exactly the charácter does and whether this could shed any more profound light on the archetype which drives the character.

Puck, for instance, could have at his core a number of possible archetypes: the obvious ones , goblin, sprite, etc  are all helpful but to some extent superficial. But what does he do? He is a servant, a magical one. He makes mischief. He makes mistakes. Perhaps he is a rebel? A child?

But what about the orphan as his archetype? Robin Goodfellow is sometimes considered a kind of half-sprite, neither a fairy, nor a human. If you took this archetype orphan  or even that of outsider think how different those two performances might be.

And of course it is important to remember that these archetypes are not ‘the character’ in total but they are a fundamental component of the character and its energy. They are a driving force . They can even be a core.

Let’s take Helena. Spoiled brat might be seen as a helpful archetype  but the name spoiled brat creates a strong value judgement within it and as soon as you make a conscious critical judgement you create something stereotypical and therefore not that helpful in creating something powerful and true.

There are still two places on this weekend course in Galway. Working with Archetypes. June 21-23, email chekhovtrainperformireland@gmail.com to book your place.