- Lucy Ribchester
- 6 August 2017
Two renaissance texts meld to create a distinctly modern dream
Created originally for the British Council's project to commemorate 400 years since Shakespeare's death, this collaboration between Gecko and Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre marries together A Midsummer Night's Dream and 16th century Chinese play The Peony Pavilion. Both toy with the significance of dreams and the complications of unrequited love. In Midsummer's case, two men are in love with Hermia, leaving Helena in the cold until magic comes onto the scene. The Peony Pavilion's central character is a woman who dreams she falls in love with a man who in the real world enters her locality only after her death.
In The Dreamer, the focus of the story is on Shakespeare's Helena, with the action wittily transported to present-day Shanghai. Helena works in an admin role for a generic company and is in love with her colleague Demetrius. He in turn only has eyes for Hermia, who is in love with Lysander. To escape the grind, Helena reads, and her book conjures up visions of mythical love such as in Peony's central story. Gradually her imagination overtakes her in waking dreams and she fantasises about meeting Oberon and Titania.
It's a neatly crafted concept and updates the texts with modern resonance while leaving space for their mythical surrealist sides. The dialogue is in Mandarin and there are no supertitles, but this barely detracts, as the physical storytelling is so alive.
Though some of these dream sequences have a tendency to ramble, the stagecraft – especially the way the ensemble uses the elaborate steampunk set – keeps our interest piqued with surprise entrances and exits, and splashes of colour. Ni Peiwen's live violin playing is exquisite and the ending rescues Helena from Shakespeare's stale double wedding, transforming her path into that of a contemporary woman taking control.
Pleasance Courtyard, until 15 Aug, 1.30pm, £11.50–£14.50 (£9.50–£13).