Theatre Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream // Shakespeare Lives

Created by director Sing J. Lee and bionic artist Viktoria Modesta, A Midsummer Night’s Dream re-imagines the fairy trickery of Shakespeare’s comedy as a virtual reality experiment. Under Oberon’s watchful eye, Titania, played by Modesta, is transported into a computer-generated fantasy, where she is drawn into a courtship dance with an unknown figure. 

The dream-like world is presented in sharp contrast to the sterile environment of Oberon’s lab. Lee creates a rich, sensory experience for the viewer with red and blue neon lighting illuminating the dancers, as the camera darts around their bodies and Modesta’s song ‘Fevah’ pulsates in the background. Titania’s lover in this version is not the donkey-headed Bottom, but a glitching computer generated image of herself.

The impressive visual performance is underscored by the filmmakers’ attention to detail in setting and costume. Lee exchanges the woods for a contemporary symbol of otherworldliness: an abandoned industrial space. Creating a sense of seclusion and unpredictability, the setting plays on the modern fascination with urban exploration. Titania’s costume also mirrors Shakespeare’s woods by drawing together elements of the natural world with manufactured material and futuristic design. It’s rigid, structural shapes reference bone and insect antennae, reflecting the animalistic, staccato movements of the dance. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream sits within Shakespeare Lives, a collection of 11 short films commissioned by the British Council to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016. Reimagining Shakespeare’s play for a modern audience, this film focuses on the idea of perception and mistaken identity to show how easily technology can create false realities. In a behind-the-scenes clip, Lee explains the inspiration for the piece as ‘becoming infatuated […] with the idea of someone else online and not knowing their true identity’ as well as the obsession with ‘how you present yourself online’ (British Council, 2016). Titania’s wooing of her own image is poignantly representative of the ways in which online platforms encourage a curated version of the self.

Lee and Modesta completely transform Shakespeare’s comedy in this concise and highly engaging piece of theatre. The short-film style allows Lee to bring one aspect of a complex narrative into focus and to explore the depth of Shakespeare’s language through minimal and selective dialogue. Repurposing Shakespeare’s words to sit alongside contemporary music and dance creates a viewing experience that feels at once highly crafted and dynamic. 

You can watch Shakespeare Live’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream here.

Words by Chloe Hemsley.

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