When I go to the theatre the first thing that I notice is the lively atmosphere of talk and laughter around me. There is an excitement that comes with not knowing what to expect from the stage in front of you when the large curtain finally opens. As you settle down to your seat, you read through the programme looking for an insight into what kind of a story is about to unfold. Then, the lights are dimmed and the noise fades into an attentive silence. Soon you find yourself engrossed as the characters come alive and take you along their journey. But, a good theatrical event is more than just story-telling. It is an experience that you cherish well after the final curtain comes down with the applause of the audience. This January, Tim Supple's acclaimed production of Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' is one such theatrical delight.
The production premiered two years ago in Delhi after a workshop at Veenapani Chawla's Adishakti in Pondicherry. Since then it has been staged in London, Stratford and other cities of the UK as well as Verona in Italy. However, as Supple points out, India is the home of the production and although it has toured all across the world, they always wanted to get back here. Thus, the stage is once again set for an unbelievable spectacle as 23 skilled actors, dancers, musicians, martial arts experts and street acrobats from across India and Sri Lanka give an amazing interpretation to Shakespeare?s most beloved romantic comedy.
Performed in different languages including English, Tamil, Malayalam, and even a little Sanskrit, the play has all the ingredients to keep the audience excited. The tour presented by The British Council has already performed to packed houses in Mumbai Bangalore and Kolkata before travelling to Delhi. After the end of the India tour, the play is scheduled to be staged in Australia, US and Canada.
However, it took two years for the production to evolve from just being an interesting idea to a visual spectacle. It all began in early 2004, when Carole Mcfadden at the London office of the British Council approached well-known English theatre and opera director Tim Supple to create a production in Sri Lanka and India. Supple, who had earlier visited India in 1997 as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and had enjoyed the experience tremendously was at once interested. Following a meeting with Alice Cicolini, head of arts at the British Council in Delhi, in Marylebone, London, Supple summed it up: The exciting scope and ambition of the project was immediately clear.
Supple knew that while a visit to India would be the first step in putting the production together, it was also important to find the right subject. He explored Indian folk tales and various classic texts and poems including the Mahabharata and Ramayana for inspiration. The Arabian Night and the epic poem Gilgamesh was another consideration along with the works of Shakespeare, where the stories could be effectively brought to life in a large scale production. However, Supple finally settled on Shakespeare's most well-know works -- A Midsummer Night's Dream -- as being ideal with its layered plots and characters to create a theatrical journey with a diverse group of actors from different regions. But what made it all so interesting was that Supple broke away from the usual conventions that we have come to expect from Shakespearean plays to tell the story in his own distinct style.
The complexity of the play seemed well suited to India's distinct theatrical techniques and performing skills. Also, one thing that was quite clear to Supple at the onset was that the production had to be multi-lingual because as he rightfully points out: "whatever else a Shakespeare production might do, it should seek to reflect the time and place in which it is made with vivid honesty." Supple soon embarked upon the daunting task to assemble the right cast that would breathe life into his vision for the production and by August he finally had his cast and creative team in place.
The production opened to an enthusiastic response, enthralling audiences and critics all over the world. Supple is happy with the fantastic response as he says: "wherever we travelled, people were enraptured with this multicultural production." But the journey so far has been unbelievable for Supple and his cast as their commitment to the production shine through the backdrop of the mesmerizing sets and colorful costumes to deliver energetic performances filled with passion. But while savoring the success, Supple continues to work in bettering the production, stating that: "while it has been a rewarding journey we have been learning, improving and developing ourselves continuously." So while the play in itself has not changed, he has ensured to improve the production details with each performance so that there is a freshness that keeps it interesting. There are plans to perform the play for another year and the troupe intend to tour till end of 2009.
The production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' is a gateway to the enchanting world of theatre where stories come alive. And while you may not understand everything that is happening on stage, you can feel the passion of the characters as their emotions move us to laugh and cry with them. That, is the magic of theatre.