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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the The Roundhouse, London

By Rachel Halliburton

  Photo: Tristram Kenton

There are certain lucky theatregoers who can measure out their lives in legendary A Midsummer Night's Dream. Some are still old enough to remember being transported by the dazzling white, sensual, air-borne Peter Brook version in 1970, while others will recall the controversial mud-bath that was Robert Lepage's interpretation in 1992. Some will never forget the vibrant irreverence of Yukio Ninagawa's ravishing production - in Japanese - in 1995, while others will point out that it followed hard on the heels of Adrian Noble's colorful and highly physical interpretation in 1994. Since the late Nineties, however, while there have been several competent Dreams, there has been nothing that's threatened to set the soul on fire. Until now, that is, with the arrival of Tim Supple's conceptually and physically daring piece from India, which, like Brook's, sends several of its characters flying, but unlike Brook's is in seven different languages - Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Malayalam, Tamil, Sinhalese and English.

It's always nerve-wracking to go to a theatrical event which has been raved about by the critics - for there's the worry that if one fails to be similarly inspired it's more a sign of one's own spiritual failing than the production's. Yet it must be confessed that although this Dream is so visually stunning from the start it seems to wake the eye up to a whole new spectrum of color, aurally it's not so immediately satisfying. The Roundhouse is one of London's most interesting venues: stars as diverse as Jim Morrison and Ian McKellen have drawn audiences to this converted Victorian engine shed. Yet despite recent extensive renovations, acoustically it's still a challenge, and when the ear has to acclimatise itself to as many unfamiliar sounds as are presented by Supple's Dream, being an audience member can feel a more arduous than ardent experience.

If one is prepared to make acoustic allowances - and the resonantly percussive music offers significant compensation - there's no reason not to be ravished by this production. Sumant Jayakrishnan's set is initially covered with a shimmering silver cloth, while bamboo scaffolding covered with paper rises up behind it. Suspended ropes and vivid red swathes of material hang tantalizingly as if waiting to be played with. As the lovers abscond to the woods, the silver cloth is pulled back to reveal a sandpit of rich red clay on which the main action takes place. Again and again an unforgettable stage picture impacts itself on the mind: the fairies ripping their way through the paper on the scaffolding like escaped demons, Oberon and Titania wrestling like wild beasts.

This is a Dream where violence and beauty constantly dance, a rainbow of sensations punctuated by emotional thunderstorms. Imagine yourself watching it in India beneath the stars, and then, perhaps, you will achieve the theatrical nirvana it promises.


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