A Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like It) | Dmitri Krymov Lab

November, 2014 | Barbican Theatre

Dmitri Krymov realises Shakespeare’s thematic and theatrical intentions through the meta-theatrical episode of the ‘Mechanicals’ in the play. Rather than lovers and fairies in the forest, it’s the company of players and their attempts to present what they see as the ultimate archetypical love story in Pyramus and Thisbe that draws the Shakespearian oscillation of dramatic forms together.

Here, commonplace elements like “Tragedy/Comedy, Foolishness/Seriousness, Laughter/sadness” (Krymov, 2014) are seamlessly executed between highly contrived Art and baseness of the coarse. Krymov, who started as a theatre designer, equates his Lab with the meta-company led by Quince; merely craftsmen making a production that’s “not yet ready” of a love story in a scratch of a space. So being, the ‘performers’ are mostly stage-hands, a pair of opera singers, some circus artists and a talented dog (which, by the way, is clearly in the text with Robin Starveling’s “this thorn-bush, my thorn-bush, and this dog, my dog.” Act V, sc.1) All of which present Pyramus and Thisbe with crude yet beautiful, comic yet sad, giant puppets. The dream of the play is in the Mechanicals, in the environment is the art.

Out goes the clunky stage props leaving a space pure for the players and the actors. Then goes the fountain that is soaking the audience as it goes, Bottom trying to catch/not catch the water with a small bucket, perhaps cleaning the audience of their expectations or perceptions of Shakespeare or theatre. A ‘conventional’ high society ‘audience’ slowly settle into a makeshift auditorium, sweeping saw dust and breaking off chunks of wood on top of each other, without this, there is no meta-play, but also it’s a cannae device that mirrors Theseus’ court yet offers apparent contemporary discussions of theatre and art. One particular lady constantly interrupts with commentary on traditional tastes and a hatred of the ‘avant garde’ but with fickle immediacy applauds when belatedly noticing her favourite actor- hypocrisy of mainstream attitudes to ‘art’.

There are numerous nods to theatrical masters and forms. Opus No 7, their Shostakovich piece, resembled the moving collage of memory found in Tadeusz Kantor’s work. Here, similarities to Forced Entertainment can be found, with scattered moments in which performers seem to be stranded in front of the audience, to the point where they reluctantly look at the surtitle bar to see if they should be talking (meta-within-meta, this direct address and relationship to audience and space is a recurring subject for Forced Entertainment. Other examples refer directly to the Venue.) Meyerhold, an unofficial leader of Russian theatre, gets a tribute. Likewise Peter Brook’s Theatrical ideas of the ‘Holy’ and ‘Rough’ theatre is arguably the same connection with Shakespeare’s performance environment that Krymov relates.

The Mechanicals throw everything into the piece in a not quite elegant but certainly sincere effort to deliver the story. Krymov describes “tenderness” of the craftsmen in telling the tragedy AND in the creative process, from the distress of a Puppet’s broken leg, to simply reading a Sonnet as a tribute to Shakespeare. Both the subject of Love (the ‘Holy’ invisible) and the Love of making theatre are achieved, by the Mechanicals, via the Dmitri Krymov Lab.

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