A NOVEL TAKE ON SHAKESPEARE’S MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

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A SURE-FIRE SUCCESS VIA  A 1930’S RADIO PLAY

Maybe at the outset, Shiona was inspired by Act III scene ii of Hamlet, where Hamlet arranges for ‘a play within a play’ “to catch the conscience of the king,” his Uncle Claudius for murdering his father, King Hamlet. This version of Midsummer Night’s Dream is just that, a play within a play. In fact it is a radio-play from the 1930s presented as a play. And such a wonderful presentation it is as the staging, the props, the sound effect implements, right down to the clothing the actors wear, have been meticulously devised to fit into that past era of radio play presentations. The time was well before the advent of television, colour film, and, horror of horrors for anyone born in the computer-age, before there were computers, the Internet, websites, computer-games or X-boxes. Back in those days very few households had a telephone, radio was the common medium for all, and the closest thing to the notion of an iPhone was the sleuth detective, Dick Tracy’s 2-Way Wrist Radio.In my first interview with Shiona Carson, we covered the general area of teaching theatre and drama in local Chinese schools throughout Hong Kong. Moving forward, this time I want to introduce Shiona’s latest venture in the world of Shakespearean theatre particularly as a means to convey English culture and language to non-native speakers of English with her new presentation of Shakespeare’s best known comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The play covers the marriage of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta which involves the adventures of four young Athenian lovers and a group of six amateur actors (the mechanicals) who are controlled and manipulated by the fairies who inhabit the forest where most of the play takes place. The play revolves around four interconnecting plots, connected by a celebration of the wedding which is set in the woodland realm of Fairyland, under the light of the moon. It takes place over a four day period and it involves each actor playing multiple roles which at times necessitates them changing roles on the spot, and then back and forth between roles. Such fast repartee in a lesser actor’s hands would lose a good deal of impact as lines need to be rapidly fired off, but in the hands of these accomplished actors the action takes place at a fast and sometimes, a furio

With each actor undertaking multiple roles, having it presented with the further level of conveying it as a radio play, the actors have even more tasks to do to create a whole audio environment, thereby putting the individual skills and experience of the actors under the spotlight. Watching them make the sound effects with a range of whistles, miniature banging doorframes, rainmakers, balloons, stone boxes to simulate running, drop weights, and so forth is almost symphonic in effect. And also the large prompt cards held aloft to get the audiences to verbally respond to action on stage-“Agh”, “Ooh”.

And in harking back to the sponsors of these radio programmes from the 1930s and right up till the 1960s where TV programmes that focused on the lives of families, became known as ‘soap-operas’ due to being sponsored by soap companies who proliferated with this type of media advertising. Well, it should come as no surprise that the Shakespeare Hour on Radio should by sponsored by Shakespeare Soup, a bit a poetic licence thrown in there, but definitely in keeping in with the times.

This filming of the play took place at its preview viewing before being taken onto the school circuit. It has proven to be an outstanding success in both the local Chinese primary and secondary schools since this time, thanks to Shiona Carson’s writing, along with her inspired direction. A good deal of the success has also been due to her co-director, Vickie Lui, who’s attention to detail with the set, props, and of course the period clothing worn by the actors. The stage has been designed to be disassembled to be moved in components so that it can be taken to each new location in order that the radio studio setting is retained for each performance.

And of course, not forgetting the brilliant and versatile acting of the five actors; Lizzi Wood, Alice Clapham, Nick Atkins, Nicholas Beckwith, Warren Butcher, and Howard Paley . There has been talk of them bringing the show to Australia if enough interest continues to grow which would make it happen from a financial point of view. Judging by the way it has been received in Hong Kong I have little doubt they will soon be doing shows in Japan and South Korea.

Stanley Butler

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Currently a writer of ESL materials and a teacher of English and Japanese in Hong Kong, his journey to the East started in the 1850's goldfield town of Ballaarat where the Eureka Rebellion took place on Dec 4 1854. After 2 decades there he then went on to spend three decades in Melbourne to pursue studies at Monash Secondary Teachers College (Rusden) and La Trobe University before taking up an active role in (Asian) furniture making and design, alongside running a business with his partner that had a dramatic impact on migrant education in Australia, the opening up of the overseas student market to Australian schools and institutions, and provided a link for Australian educators to establish their expertise throughout the Asia region, particularly in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. On the way to Asia with an obligatory trip around Australia in mind to see his own country, Darwin and the Northern Territory captivated him. Shortly after arriving, he found himself resident in Alice Springs, in the heart of the Australia, where he had for the first time, contact with Aboriginal people and the problems that confront them in a land that has largely left them marginalised. That was a real learning curve for him and is something that empowers him to see they have their problems redressed in a just and equitable way. For a culture that has existed for over 60,000 years, the world's oldest continuing living culture, that had never been messed with prior to the 1788 British First Fleet of convicts, of whom some of his roots came from, the takeover of their land and their culture deserves nothing less. However the East has always been something that's fascinated him since childhood. After many trips to Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, The Philippines and Indonesia over the years, it wasn't until 2008 that he was finally able to live in the heart of this region, in Hong Kong.