"A Midsummer Night’s Dream" - a maelstrom of illusion and delusion

by L. Miriyagalle
I recently came across an article on Shakespearean Theatre that described A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a play containing "adult", "immoral" and "occult" practices. I admit to being a bit taken aback, after all wasn’t this the very play that inspired four hundred years of stories and pictures depicting tiny, winged, fragile yet mischievous creatures? Creatures whose descendants appear in Enid Blyton’s stories and Walt Disney’s animations? Was this not the same play that inspired the Wedding March by Mendlesson and "The Golden Wedding Anniversary of Oberon and Titania" in Goethe’s Faust? Immoral? Occult? Utter rot! I said to my self.

Yet, as I was handed the ticket and programme to the Silent Hands’ production of A Midsummer Nights Dream I found myself dreading the outcome. The ominous lines on the programme "An invitation to Magical Madness" stirred conflicting emotions within me. My adult psyche chided me to be sensible and to have an open mind, but the child in me refused to let go of the images of the be-dimpled cherub-like Puck and his mischievous, translucent cohorts. I dreaded seeing my innocent faeries transformed into "overly erotic", "savage" and "sinister" beings of the night. I was in for a few surprises.

Not more than ten minutes into the performance, I realised that my imaginings were seriously out of date and thankfully so were most of the controversial ideas of the afore mentioned article. My illusions of the chubby Puck were shattered, as Charith de Silva, in one of the best performances of the night, leaped, bounded and slunk about the stage in his green skin, complete with a single horn on his head - a better Puck than I could have ever imagined. The entire play revolved around his character for it is Puck or rather Puck’s mischievous deeds and mistakes that cause the action in the play. Within the course of one night he manages to confuse the affections of two sets of mortal lovers, disrupt a band of amateur actors and make his Queen fall in love with a mortal disguised as an ass.

Both Mario de Soyza and Shanuki de Alwis who played the roles of King Oberon and Queen Titania were utterly convincing in their portrayal of the supernatural. Titania was feminine, feisty and determined while Oberon remained her impassive and cunning lord and master. Titania’s movements were fluid and natural, and her voice had a bell like clarity that contrasted sharply with De Soyza’s deep and precise tone. The one thing that spoilt the character of Titania for me was the excessive makeup on her face. The glitter was distracting and her facial expressions were all but non-existent.

As expected "the mortal world" lacked the glamour and magic of that of the faeries. But this world was by no means mundane. The audience were treated to some fiery displays of female jealousy and bitchiness - courtesy of Helena and Hermia, (played by Neidra Williams and Natalie A. Soysa) and of "machoness" by Ian Van Hoff and Jehan Bastains who played the roles of Lysander and Demetrius.

Scenes that audience most enjoyed (judging by the hysterical hoots and chuckles) were undoubtedly the scene where Titania, under the spell of a magic flower falls in love with the mortal weaver, Bottom - resplendent in his asses head and (ahem)...other appendages; and the meta-drama (play within a play) in which we witnessed a parody of Romeo and Juliet. The latter scene was slapstick comedy at its best, as both Eric Wijeratne and veteran actor Jerome de Silva surpassed themselves in their comic portrayal of two star-crossed lovers.

However even the best acting wouldn’t have been able to create the atmosphere of the "magical madness" if it had not been for the superb lighting, costumes, stage settings, and stage effects. Together, they transported the audience to a different world at every change of scene - glowing figures, torches, mist, flashes of lightning and strange eerie music. Oberon’s and Titania’s kingdom was never so magical. The Crew of A Midsummer Nights Dream well deserved the thunderous applause they received at the curtain call.

So there you have it - all the ingredients for a five star performance? I am afraid not. There were other failings in addition to Titania’s over-painted face. Firstly, the projection of voices was so poor in certain scenes of the play that I found myself staining to catch the lines of some of the actors.

Secondly, with the exception of Jerome de Silva and other main characters the rest of the cast may well have been speaking Greek. In fact, if it were not for the exaggerated action in certain scenes, I would have been at loss as to what was really going on; such was the confusion of accents and pauses. I am well aware that it takes a very talented or even experienced actor or actress to be at ease with 17th century English, yet I thought a better effort could have been made when it came to articulation. As drama critic Leroy Garcia states in The Design of Drama, "there are no accidents in a play; every word, every line, every incident, every character and object is the product of a shaping hand which knows its craft". Thus even those whom we term "minor characters" in a drama, are "minor" not in importance but in the quantity of lines said, and time spent on stage in comparison to the main characters.

Depicting Oberon’s and Titania’s World of Enchantment alongside the Mortal World is no mean feat. One must congratulate directors Neidra Williams and Jehan Bastians for doing an excellent job in getting these two worlds to intermingle and fraternise, without damaging the dream-like atmosphere of the play. The planing-out of scenes must have been exhausting work, even with a genius like Shakespeare or quite possibly, because of a genius like Shakespeare. And since A Midsummer Night’s Dream has no concrete plot to speak of, the success of the play lies chiefly in the hands of its actors and the director(s).

All in all, SILENT HANDS in association with the English Literary & Drama Society of St. Peters College, Bambalapitiya, did make true their promise of a "magical" evening. And even though my innocent fantasies of Faerie Land were crushed, I enjoyed myself immensely and so I think, did every one else who witnessed the performance from the 25th to the 28th of April. SILENT HANDS’ next venture, we were informed, is to be the stormy story of Ariel and Caliban. Judging by what I have just seen, methinks it will be quite a Tempest.