A Midsummer Night’s Dream ***

McEwan Hall, 14 – 23 August 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Throughout this visually stunning Dream there’s a nagging sense that the Beijing Film Academy are trying to put one over on us; to distract us with twinkly lights and tumbly fights in the hope that we won’t notice the many holes in their adaptation.

Shakespeare’s faeries are downgraded to adolescent online gamers, his human characters to programmed game sprites and his Athens to a multiplayer online fantasy world à la World of Warcraft. The apparent logic behind this is that we mortals are about as significant to the faeries as, say, The Sims are to us. And what’s the first thing you do when you get bored playing The Sims? Depending on your personality, either set them on fire – or meddle in their love lives.

So far, so logical, and further ponderings on the subject are shoved swiftly to the back burner by an onslaught of visual artistry. Ting Luo’s costumes are elaborate and otherworldly; a catalogue of ghostly pale pleats and ruffles, rendered only faintly ridiculous by the addition of LED rope lights. Multimedia designer Dawei Lu’s bespoke animated projections are astounding, a constantly growing, changing backdrop that takes account and advantage of McEwan Hall’s staggering décor and architecture. The action, too, has a distinctly BFA flavour, with plenty of enjoyably daft martial-arts-flick “for this insult you must die!” moments.

It’s spectacular enough to render the language barrier a non-issue, though Oberon/Ola (Nan Zhang) does often switch into English to deliver exposition of the videogame plot mechanics. It’s in these explanatory scenes with Puck/Perquie (Jiang Shimeng), now a hacker, that it becomes briefly apparent that things don’t really make sense. It’s never properly explained, for example, why the Love-in-Idleness virus, which alters the emotional parameters of the in-game AI, also affects Titania/Titata (Yabin Wang), a human player.

Within the boundaries of the auditorium, this is as comic and transporting as every good Dream should be. But once you’re out the door, thinking it over without the distraction of the production itself, it begins to look more like highly polished, sparkly nonsense.

Written by Jinsong Wang after William Shakespeare

Crew includes Jinsong Wang (director, planner and script adaptation), Dawei Lu (multimedia designer) and Ting Luo (costume designer)

Cast includes Weihang Rui (Lonson), Jiang Shimeng (Perquie), Tao Wang (Dalytely), Yabin Wang (Titata), Yiru Wang (Heyleese), Qi Yang (Ayamaya) and Nan Zhang (Ola)

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