A Midsummer Night's Dream (1997): Tara Arts

PrA Midsummer Night's Dream (

Live Performance

PRINCIPAL CAST: David Baker (Puck); Pauline Black (Titania); Sarah D'Arcy (Helena); Vincent Ebrahim (Oberon); Sara Houghton (Hermia); Nizwar Karanj (Bottom); John Leary (Lysander); Al Nedjari (Demetrius).

This production ran at the Lyric, Hammersmith from 23 January - 1 March 1997 and then toured. The ethnicities of the entire cast have not been verified, but those that have been are included in this database.

"Director Jatinder Verma has invaded the world of A Midsummer Night's Dream and subjected it to his imperious will. Almost all the comedy's old magic, Shakespeare's creation of the opposing worlds of royal Athens and that enchanted forest of fairies and fantasy has been suppressed. Under Verma's reign of creative terror the play has been so haphazardly pruned and lopped, with some scenes rearranged or run together, that rich essentials have been watered down and out. The brawling, bemused lovers, besotted Titania and her capering fairies, David Baker's ponderous Puck and the dim, rapping mechanicals are blurred together (despite the mix of accents and races). They are all vaguely similar, most Nineties bejeaned people. They speak Shakespeare as if recently introduced to him - though Sara Houghton's Hermia is nicely exasperated. Nizwar Karanj's pompous Bottom, steeped in gloom, could easily belong to the court of Vincent Ebrahim's bland, bawling Oberon. Bottom's seduction by Pauline Black's Titania, who actually sings some lines, seems less than bizarre. Magdalen Rubalcava's set - an emptyish space with two bisecting ladders in the midst of a climbing frame, and two tunnel-like pipes - does not even have the personality of a junk-shop. There's no sense of place or atmosphere - though fairies jumping from coloured trapdoors spring a small surprise....Verma, with his Tara Arts Company, aspires to create 'spectacular total theatre' and has also developed what he calls 'Binglish', a lingo which borrows from a variety of Asian and African tongues. But his production, although it has moments of song and dance, misses out on any inventive spectacle. It lacks any real concept, any new way of seeing or interpreting the play. This 'Binglish' (here mirthlessly employed by the mechanicals) indicates how Verma tends to colonise rather than revolutionise Shakespeare's texts."  ~ Nicholas de Jongh, "Away with the forest fairies is the Bottom line", Evening Standard, 29 January 1997

"Tara, an Anglo-Asian company here working with an ethnic mix ranging from the Afro-Caribbean to Home Counties, will doubtless win Brownie points from the Arts Council for its mix 'n' match multi-culturalism. But the show looks like an under-rehearsed exercise in cultural tourism to me and largely fails to do justice to the magic of the Dream. There are moments when the spellbinding wonder of Shakespeare's play shines through, but they are few and far between. The heart sinks at the sight of Magdalen Rubalcava's set, dominated by an adventure-playground climbing frame and huge sewage pipes, while the bilious DayGlo pinks and greens bruise the retina. Far more effective is Adrian Lee's Indian raga-influenced score. As so often these days, there is an alarming tendency to play over, rather than around Shakespeare's verse, though much of the verse-speaking is so execrable that the music comes as a blessed relief....The movement is alarmingly awkward, apart from David Baker's Puck, who's up and down the climbing frame like a lemur on speed....There are high spots. Pauline Black is an imperiously sensual Titania, Vincent Ebrahim a wry, engaging Oberon, and though most of them mangle the verse, the mismatched lovers have some entertaining moments."  ~ Charles Spencer, "Troubled dreamers shouting in their sleep", Daily Telegraph, 30 January 1997

"Verma's programme notes state that the city scenes are to be formal in style, which must be why the Burmese actor Richard Santhiri plays Egeus in the classical Japanese tradition. Possibly the shrill voice and angular movements are used in Burmese theatre, of which I am ignorant, but it looks Japanese to me. Nobody else in the Athens scenes acts like this, but then this production is nothing if not inconsistent. When Santhiri plays Quince, hopping, jumping, gibbering - 'Your, Perramassa's fatha!' - I cannot imagine what he is trying to do....Nizwar Karanj, blessed with a clown's face that retreats in all directions from the point of his nose, has a good stab at Bottom. His voice is expressive, by no means the general rule in this production, and he is generally placed centre stage so that we can hear what he says. Inexplicably, some actors are made to stand so far to the side, on a stage wide enough to mount Aida with whole families of elephants, that they become invisible and inaudible. Not an arresting evening."  ~ Jeremy Kingston, "It's all Greek and Japanese", The Times, 30 January 1997