In our humble opinion, few people have done more to make the Bard less boring than Shakespeare 4 Kidz. The UK company, which last year successfully brought the blood and guts of Macbeth to our stages, is renowned for transforming Shakespeare’s complex works into something understandable and – more importantly – enjoyable for young theatre-goers.
This month, S4K brings its own, musical version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays – to the DUCTAC theatre. With a script by Julian Chenery and a songbook by Matt Gimblett, ably assisted, of course, by Mr Shakespeare, the show uses only the most famous original lines and slots them into modern language so that everyone, from the youngest primary school tot to the most Bard-baffled adult, can understand.
Time Out Kids caught up with Julian Chenery, S4K founder and the play’s director. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a far cry from Macbeth, which you brought to Dubai last year.
Why have you gone from Shakespeare’s darkest to his lightest play?
JC: The kids loved the story of Macbeth – it’s exciting, spooky, has a few murders in it and ends up with a thrilling swordfight. The Dream was the first show we ever wrote back in 1996 and the first one we produced in 1997. There are three intertwining stories set around a forthcoming Royal Wedding in Athens. Most of the action takes place in the woods at night, where a mischievous hobgoblin called Puck causes mayhem with a magic love-potion. As you say, it really is a load of fun and is enjoyable for both cast and audience alike.
Why is A Midsummer Night’s Dream so appealing to kids?
JC: It appeals equally to both boys and girls – it’s very funny with two central comedy performances from Puck (Noel Andrew Harron) and Bottom (Sean Luckham) both of whom are making their fifth visit to the UAE with S4K. They are definitely the kids’ favourite characters: Puck as he’s so mischievous and Bottom because everything he does makes people laugh.
Yes, kids and Bottoms are always a good combination. Do you think Shakespeare’s humour is naturally appealing to kids? Or is that something you’ve had to work on in your production?
JC: To be honest, Shakespeare is probably one of the worst joke-tellers of all. Quite often when you see a production and there’s a joke coming, you get about four very well-educated people in the audience laughing before it’s even told… and they’re the only ones who are! But our skill lies in framing the drama of story-telling with physical humour and, let’s face it, slapstick humour is funny, whether it’s people falling over or a pie in the face. Wit, rhythm, repartee – be it physical, verbal or just the way the characters look and stand and whether it’s Shakespeare or not – works. That’s very much a part of what we do.
In Macbeth you used lots of special effects to make the show more exciting. What do you have planned for this production?
JC: There are two settings. Part of the play takes place in Athens, which is very civilised, very sophisticated and very regulated. Then you’ve got the magical, mysterious woods where you’ll find the stars, the lights and the magical effects. It looks wonderful.
Are you finding your shows are becoming increasingly popular and why?
JC: It’s our fifth time in Dubai – we started in 2007 with A Midsummer Night’s Dream and have subsequently brought across Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet and Macbeth. We tell these world-famous Shakespeare stories in a way that is accessible, enjoyable and understandable – combining education with entertainment. EDU-TAINMENT!
What’s next and when are you coming back again?
JC: We’ve got something very special for our 2011/12 UK and international tour. We’re making a movie of S4K’s Romeo & Juliet and we’re revamping the theatre show to make it look as much like the film as possible. From the scenery and video walls, to the costumes and choreography – from next year all of our theatre shows will have a direct link to our new movies.