Any audience member who has heard about Dmitry Krymov’s production, or researched a little on seeing the strange subtitle ‘As You Like It’, would not be expecting Shakespeare’s full play, but its advertising does not make it clear that this response to the bard‘s Dream focuses only on the Mechanicals and their Pyramus and Thisbe play, disappointing some.
Two giant puppets, cobbled together from bits and bobs, Pyramus with a classical funerary face painting and Thisbe with a china doll head, are manipulated by acrobats, a clown, stage hands, actors, two singers (who voice the puppets) and a man with a performing dog. They have their own audience which enters late, causes disturbances with their flimsy, sawdust strewn seating, mobile phones and frequent commentary on the action and performers, along with some wonderful anecdotes from the matriarch of the group. The songs are in German, speech in Russian and there are two surtitle screens either side of the stage, with another screen occasionally lowered centrally.
This approach involves fantastic modernising of the elements of Shakespeare’s mechanicals and their audience at the Duke’s court, and the introduction to do with their lack of preparation is a beautiful and hilarious parallel to Quince’s garbled prologue in the original play. There is also an exploration of performance, of meta-theatre, of sincerity in what is offered and in the juxtaposition of the rough and the crude with great skill and occasional elegance. Moments of gentle beauty and of pain are achieved, though perhaps not as strongly as intended, and there is a great deal to admire in the handling of the puppets, as well as much to enjoy in the Mechanicals earnest attempts and their audience’s interruptions.
Director Krymov, an artist and set designer, is himself a ‘craftsman’, hence his being drawn to the story of the Mechanicals. He claims that he could not imagine himself in a magical forest, yet he creates something like it here, even without the great trees and the fountain that is first brought through the audience, only to disappear off the far side of the stage. Krymov’s visuals are strong and he plays cleverly with the crudely grotesque alongside tenderness and simple beauty. The skill of his mixed company, including the jack russell Venya, is obvious and you know that, for all their talk of not being prepared, this is a highly accomplished production.
Though the performance is not long, some sections seem to take more time than needed, despite the detail of the puppet handlers and the amusing distractions of their audience’s responses. This is not the well-known A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it has nothing to do with that other Shakespeare play, As You Like It, but it is an intriguing, witty and thought-provoking exploration of the heart of the Mechanicals – people contriving with all their ingenuity to tell their tale and finding new ways to express one of the most enduring of themes: great love. Through this telling, we see such love for exploring performance itself.
Review by Danielle Farrow