El sueño de una noche de verano/ Uda gau bateko ametsa, (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) Teatro Arriaga, April 2016
Reviewed by Elizabeth Jeffery
Director & Castilian translator: Pablo Viar; Basque translator: Jon Koldo Vázquez
Cast: Gabriel Ocina (Teseo); Eneritz Artetxe (Hipólita); Chema Trujillo (Filóstrato); Antonio Rupérez (Egeo); Aritza Rodríguez (Puck); Joseba Apaolaza (Oberon); Itziar Lazkano (Titania); Mikel Losada (Lisandro); Lander Otaola (Demetrio); Itxaso Quintana (Hermia); Lucía Astigarraga (Helena); Gurutze Beitia (Trasero/Píramo); Iñaki Maruri (Membrillo/Prólogo); Mitxel Santamarina (Famélico/LuzdeLuna); Jon Ariño (Hocico/Muro); Karmele Larrinaga (Acople/León); Jon Koldo Vázquez (Flauta/Tisbe); Sara Barroeta (Hada 1); Olatz Ganboa (Hada 2); María Urcelay (Hada 3); Aiora Sedano (Hada 4)
Performed in three starkly contrasting languages, English, Castilian and Basque, this innovative production of one of William Shakespeare’s best loved plays is a visual feast from start to finish. Director Pablo Viar and his cast have breathed new, refreshing life into the dream that has been recurring in the universal consciousness for the last four hundred years. There is so much that could be said about this work of art and I congratulate everyone involved; however for the purposes of this blog, I shall try to be brief, and not too superlative in doing so.
The production makes powerful use in its choice of who had access to which language. Surtitles appeared in Castilian and Basque throughout. Theseus and Hippolyta are the only two to speak English, the short and interspersed original language dialogues acting as an echo of the past, which is reflected in their slow, lethargic delivery, as if spoken in a dream. When the rest of the court are animated, they switch into fluidly rendered Castilian. Poetry oozes out of Viar’s translation as metre and rhyme have been maintained throughout this wonderful rendition, that glides trippingly off the tongue. This falls in sharp contrast to the deliciously earthly, guttural utterances of Puck and his confederates, translated into Basque by Jon Koldo Vázquez. One really could believe that spirits are being conjured through this ancient language, intoned by the inhabitants of an ancient earth. Whilst the fairy kingdom has the power to switch between Basque and Castilian when interacting with mortals, the court is restricted to the latter, emphasising the use of Basque as a hidden language of the natural earth.
One of the most spine-tinglingly beautiful images I have seen created in the theatre is the arrival of Puck on stage. Whilst a haunting Basque nursery rhyme echoes throughout the auditorium, a large moon rises up stage centre, followed by just a hand reaching upwards. Then slowly, a creature emerges from the dark, silhouetted in the moonlight, and transforms the stage into the dream forest. We never truly leave the court as the chairs used in the opening scene rise to hang upside down, forming a spindly canopy. Aritza Rodríguez’s animalistic rendering of Shakespeare’s ‘shrewd and knavish sprite’ is simultaneously threatening and enchanting. Truly a creature of the elements, Rodríguez portrays a highly acrobatic Puck, that belongs at once to the earth and the air, as he creeps and crawls over the stage, climbs the set scaffolding and ropes with ease, and then disappears in an instant into the darkness. The fairies in Titania’s train are equally corporeal, first bearing a menacing resemblance to Macbeth’s witches. They then transform into highly physicalised and sexualised beings, and later into childlike creatures that engage Bottom in play. They have also appeared as the chorus in the court scenes, thereby threading through further echoes of the court into this black and white dreamland of the lovers; the conscious penetrates the subconscious.
The mechanicals bring light and colour to the stage in a wonderfully playful version of Pyramus and Thisbe. The comedy of the play is toned down and restricted to the scenes with the mechanicals, thereby heightening the joyous word play and wit that ensues.
The skeletal set and lack of colour forces the audience to concentrate not only on the language and poetry but also on the individual characters as they journey through the dream forest, losing and rediscovering themselves along the way. Exploring the ‘limits of reality and the symbolic, the dreamt’ is one of Viar’s primary motivations, and one that is fully realised as the audience and characters alike sink further and further into the dream.
The suggestion that the entire play has occurred as a dream in the collective consciousness of the lovers is pushed further through Theseus reading the epilogue in English. Seated on his throne up stage centre, with a large book that up lights his face when he opens it, Theseus begs our pardon ‘if we shadows have offended’, as if reading us the end of a bed time story. A simultaneous double transferral of power occurs as the mortal court retakes control from the fairy kingdom, firmly sequestering the magical elements within the fictional, dream world. The use of English breaks the spell of the theatrical spectacle by removing us even more from the delicately constructed Castilian court. We awaken from the dream shortly after the lovers do by returning to the original language of the play, and are forcibly reminded of the suspension of disbelief we have been party to.
Offered as an act of commemoration in line with world wide festivities taking place this year, Viar and company have created a very special homage that celebrates the poetry and creative genius of Shakespeare in beautiful languages and images.