The Bard from Bengal

On Saturday night, Pamela and I went to see a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Sydney Theatre Company. We are both Shakespeare fans so we try and get to productions when we can. (We both cursed that we couldn’t get down to Melbourne to see Ian McKellen play Lear – why can’t they bring these things to Sydney?).

The production had got rave reviews. It has an all-Indian cast and apparently started its run in Delhi before eventually moving to Stratford-on-Avon for a sell-out season followed by a world tour. It all sounded good.

And it was good. The set was really interesting and effective. Puck was excellent – an absolute pre-requisite for a good Midsummer Night’s produciton. Titania and Bottom were excellent and the supporting cast were good. There was some great set pieces including stick fighting by the fairies which worked remarkably well.


There was one very strange element to the production. Shakespeare, as most people will know, was writing in English. This production was in a mixture of English, Tamil, Malayalan, Sinhalese, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi and Sanskrit. Except for English, these I know from nothing.

They kept enough bits in English that Pamela and I could follow it but we know the play quite well. We spoke to some people during the interval and they didn’t have a clue what was going on. Some other friends of theirs had just given up and left.

We were able to give them a plot outline which they said helped a bit but it wasn’t the full Shakespeare. When a speech comes up that you remember rolling in the aisles the last time you heard it and it is all in one of Tamil, Malayalan, Sinhalese, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi or Sanskrit the fact that the actor is successfully indicating that his speech is supposed to be funny is just not the same.

I can see why this mix of languages might be a good idea in Mumbai but why the hell do it in Sydney? The only person who really seemed to get it was the Indian gentleman in the 3rd row who was laughing at the bits we knew were funny in English.

In spite of all this is was a good evening and we enjoyed it. But it is frustrating to think that, had it all been in English, we would have gone away thinking it was just fabulous.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 17th, 2008 at 2:38 pm and is filed under And furthermore..., General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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