Enter the weird and wonderful world of Dmitry Krymov’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like it) with any preconceptions about what a night out at the theatre entails, or expecting your standard Shakespeare adaptation, and your head will be quickly spinning. Check your expectations at the door, and you’ll be pretty well set to enjoy a thoroughly unique piece that will have you giggling like a kid and probably asking yourself, “did I just see that?”
Borrowing the story of Pyramus and Thisbe as told by The Mechanicals from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Krymov puts the audience directly into the action by immersing us in a mad world of confused stagehands, random acrobatics, faux audience, towering puppets and a scruffy dog. From the top of the show, as a group of stagehands first bring a giant prop tree trunk in sections, nearly dropping branches onto the public’s heads, we are caught off-guard. Then these same stagehands come back through with a prop fountain that’s active and dumping water on the good folks on the perimeter of the stalls. (Ushers follow immediately with fresh white towels for those directly involved.)
Then a set of posh-looking ‘audience’ in tuxes and gowns file in from either side of the stalls, and enter the stage, seating themselves on either side of the proscenium, or up in the theatre’s box seats. After a few gags involving this mock audience, the stagehands return, half-dressed, and proceed to finish their costume change on stage in front of us. The troupe leader, this piece’s version of Peter Quince, is introduced to us when he faints and topples over face first into the floor and comes up bloodied and stunned, and begins introducing us to the story of Pyramus and Thisbe.
The twists and turns this piece takes are surprising and sometimes puzzling, but nothing about it is difficult to understand. It’s off-the-wall, outside-the-box, way over in left field stuff, paired with slapstick and sight gags to keep it light and whimsical. Krymov draws out funny moments by giving the laughs time to brew; he creates these slow-moving set-ups where he keeps us in a state of comic suspense, and we start to chuckle to ourselves in anticipation of a punchline. He always delivers with something unexpected.
The show is performed in Russian with surtitles, which produces a strange effect when the surtitles give away the joke before the actors appear to get there, but it’s not too dialogue-heavy so you won’t spend your whole time reading to keep up. It’s a largely visual-aural show, with two lovely singers giving voice to the two giant puppets by singing Schubert. There are heady ‘meta’ moments that are usually quite quickly counter-acted by some groundling humor.
The set is a bare, unpainted raked stage, with no drops or masking for the majority of the show, so the theatre’s insides are exposed to the public. Also, the house lights come up frequently, lending a touch of Brecht to the work. The puppets are clunky, lopsided and awkward, but they are ultimately imbued with life through the team’s good storytelling.
The icing on the cake comes at the end with the help of some local talents provided by Steps Youth Dance Company, but I won’t go into further detail at the risk of ruining this delightful surprise. This fun spectacle celebrates the process of putting a show together, and successfully combines low and high art to become a real crowd-pleaser.
Chekhov International Theatre Festival and Dmitry Krymov’s Laboratory
A Midsummer Night's Dream (As You Like It)
2014 Perth Festival
Directed by Dmitry Krymov
Venue: His Majesty's Theatre, Perth
Dates: 14 – 19 Feb 2014
Tickets: $25 – $79