After a train journey consisting of a woman shouting at us- don’t ask- which resulted in us moving seats in what felt like a dreary game of musical chairs, we were happy to finally be in Stratford-Upon-Avon. The main purpose of the day was to see a performance of the Shakespeare play ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. This all sounds quite pleasant, I am sure, but we faced one problem when watching it that threw us off guard. The play was an adaptation of the normal story, but more importantly.... it was in Russian.
Of course there would be subtitles, but the play itself was like nothing I had ever seen before. Normally, A Midsummer Night’s Dream revolves around the adventures of four young lovers in a forest- Hermia & Lysander and Helena & Demetrius- who end up falling in love with the wrong people due to the interference of Puck- a mischievous fairy servant. On top of that, the King of the Fairies- Oberon, is jealous of the attention his queen Titania is paying to a human boy she is taking care of, and decides to get Puck to use a magical flower that will make her fall in love with the first thing she sees. This hilariously results in her falling madly in love with Bottom the weaver, who at this point has the head of a donkey due to a spell that Puck cast upon him. Needless to say that none of this happened in the performance that I saw.
The third story in the play is the one that the Russian actors and actresses portrayed in their performance. A basic overview is that a group of workers are rehearsing a humourous play about two lovers, Pyramus and Thisbe to perform for the Duke Theseus on his wedding day, only they are ill prepared and things begin to go wrong. When the actors and actresses initially came out on the stage, bumbling and making the audience laugh, I sat back, thinking that this would be an easy play to watch. Oh how wrong I was. The thespians left the stage, only to return half dressed, carrying their trousers, shoes and other clothes and for five minutes, we watched them awkwardly get dressed in front of the audience. The majority of these people were middle aged to old men- so you could imagine my discomfort. I understand that they were playing characters that were unprepared for the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe, but I could have done without seeing some half naked fifty year old men and their hairy legs, thank you very much.
As the play progressed, I began to wonder which man would play Pyramus, whilst it was fairly obvious that the only woman on the stage would be playing Thisbe. Once again, I was wrong. The actors started huddling around what looked like the bags criminals shove dead bodies in when you’re watching a crime film, pottering around and putting different parts together. Bewildered as a cat when it sees its reflection in the mirror for the first time, I watched them attach different pieces of old metal together to make a giant person, which I then realised was supposed to be Pyramus. They did the same for Thisbe, the actors using metal rods to make it look like Pyramus and Thisbe were interacting with each other. I was slightly annoyed that there was no dialogue between the two and only the giving of flowers, but a little, energetic Russian actor described what happened after each interaction, to my relief, so things began to make sense.
However, like a flash of a light, my little Russian friend had disappeared and I was left to work out what was going on by myself, which at times, was impossible. In fairness to the actors that I saw, they did tell the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, however it was only when I read in depth about the story afterwards that the play I saw began to make even a morsel of sense. At times, I would look around the theatre in search of anyone else who was as baffled as I was. In a sea of delighted and sometimes nodding appreciatively elderly folk, on the upper tier I noticed a man with his two sons. These boys couldn’t have been any older than eight or nine, and their expressions of utter confusion brought joy to my eyes. Yes, they were only children who had no hope of understanding the play, but I felt like I wasn’t alone- there were others who didn’t get it! I continued looking around the audience to see a teenage boy, about my age, looking just as puzzled as me, possibly questioning if he was actually seeing ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and not a different, very weird, play.
Towards the end of the play, I saw a bit of hope when my guardian angel returned, saying- in Russian, of course- that they would now translate what had just happened so that it would make a bit more sense. My prayers had been answered; the last hour of operatic singing between two mechanical people would finally make sense. One by one the thespians returned to the stage, but to my dismay, began making all sorts of strange noises that were in fact complete gibberish.
If you’re looking for a moral to the story, maybe it could be to check whether a play is in your language or if it is going to make sense to you before you see it. Despite spending the rest of the day in a state of confusion, I can’t deny that Chelsea and I had a great day. We had ventured out to an unknown land, found our way around this mysterious place and seen a hilarious play- even if it was only hilarious because we couldn’t understand it. I take my metaphorical hat off to those Russians- never before have I watched a play I didn’t understand and come away from it with a big smile on my face. In my day at Stratford, I learnt that an adventure worth having is one that teaches you that life doesn’t make much sense... so you might as well just laugh at it.