By Danielle Farrow
Beijing’s ST@UIBE company’s entertaining ‘A Midsummer Night’s DREAMING’ is based on Shakespeare’s play of similar name and focuses on four struggling lovers and the fey creatures that seek to change these couples. At the magical Sophora Nest Hotel, the Spirits of Sensitivity, Sense and Moderation witness many love stories, and on this occasion their guests are Hermia and Lysander (he treating her as his possession) and Helena and Demetrius (she treating him as her slave). The latter couple’s role reversal from Shakespeare’s original, with Demetrius here being completely devoted to a Helena who is chasing after Lysander, works excellently.
The Spirits have their own concerns about the couples: Sensitivity is determined to free the fire she sees within the ‘good girl’ Hermia, and Sense sets out to lift the veil of illusion from Helena, while Moderation plods steadily alongside, ready to point out what should be obvious, but tends to get missed in the excitement of feeling or safety of analysis. As their tricks and lessons play out, the young Chinese performers work well together, are very engaging, and – for the most part – are clear in their English speaking, though sometimes sung sections are not as intelligible or as fully embodied as the rest, and the knowledge that one is known as Moderation comes from the programme rather than being heard.
Characterisations are delightful, including Demetrius’ sincere devotion and the fire spirit Sensitivity’s Puckish qualities. The comedy of the original is very much in evidence in this adaptation, and fights, characters and the script are all aptly grounded in Shakespeare’s play – with some of his language also employed – showing the strength of the creators and director of the piece. Three poles with stiffened flags, associated with the elemental Spirits, are the only set and move easily to create different parts of the hotel, while costume reflects contemporary as well as traditional China.
There is a great deal of fun in this production, which lightly looks at gender politics as well as love, and traditional Chinese theatre techniques mix beautifully with modern ideas, bringing a flavour of nature to this hotel well in keeping with Shakespeare’s original woodland setting. Fine entertainment!
Note: A Midsummer Night’s DREAMING is part of the project ‘William Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu: celebrating a 400 year legacy’ from the University of Leeds (UK) and the University of International Business and Economics (China). Its companion piece, ‘DREAMING Under the Southern Bough’, sees Leeds’ students offer a contemporary response to Tang Xianzu’s ‘Nanke Ji’, performed after ‘A Midsummer Night’s DREAMING’.
Until 13th August, 10:00 (10:45) @ theSpace on Niddry Street (Venue 9)