My decision to see all of Shakespeare’s plays performed live inside of a year was made on 23rd April 2016 – the 400th anniversary his death. If I’d thought about it in advance there would have been more time to plan. I would have kickstarted this challenge with a play that day perhaps, or at least one that week. Given that 38 plays in 52 weeks works out as a play every 9.6 days, there’s no time to waste. It was an impulsive decision however, which meant that I didn’t end up seeing any Shakespeare until June – whoops!
I want to see Shakespeare live, but I don’t just want to see traditional performances. The beauty of Shakespeare is that over the centuries his words have been ripped apart, edited, played with, interpreted and presented in so many different permutations that there is no wrong way to ‘do’ Shakespeare. I want to enjoy that variety to the fullest by watching plays, operas, recitals, ballets and dance performances by professionals, youths and amateur dramatic societies. With A Midsummer Night’s Dream (AMND), a play I know well, I leapt at the opportunity to see it done in a new way; I went to see an amateur ballet.
On Friday 3rd June 2016 I enjoyed a surreal Friday evening as I watched AMND performed by the Yuka Kodama Ballet Group at Wychwood School. Part of the reason I wanted to see a ballet version is that I don’t hugely like AMND. I find the mechanicals’ plot time consuming and tedious, the women of the play are fairly meh and when Titania shows a hint of defiance towards Oberon, she is punished by being made to fall in love with a donkey. It’s not Shakespeare’s finest, nor is it hugely funny, yet AMND seems to be the most popular of his plays with dozens of performances this summer across the UK. I could have gone to a promenade version by Creation Theatre but the ballet appealed to me as something different.
The Yuka Kodama Ballet Group AMND cast was composed of adults and children and the audience was composed almost exclusively of their friends and family. If there’s one thing this challenge has taught me, it’s to learn to embrace watching theatre alone, often surrounded by people who know the cast members (wait until you hear about the Richard II I saw…). So I sat on my own in that school auditorium in June, watching children and adults dance in front of proud parents, siblings and friends whilst trying desperately not to look too out of place. That was play number one, by now I’ve stopped caring!
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine
– Oberon, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2 Scene 1 ll. 249-252
The sad thing about the ballet is missing out on Shakespeare’s beautiful language (see quote above). The great thing about the ballet is watching the physicality of Shakespeare’s characters come to life. If there’s one thing I love about AMND it’s the otherworldly elegance of the fairies – particularly the impish Puck – which lends itself so perfectly to dance. The cast were brilliant, especially the adults working alongside much younger students. Puck was played by Yuka Kodama’s son with mischievous ebullience. I know next to nothing about ballet and it was lovely to sit back and watch the action without analysing the language (or trying to avoid the occasional mind wander during long speeches).
All in all, I spent an enjoyable evening doing something I wouldn’t have done otherwise – this challenge is certainly pushing me to explore new plays, places and performances!
Thank you to Susan Taylor for allowing me to use her photos in this article.