Chutney and Chips came to reinvent the canon, to shake up Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a cocktail of Bollywood dance and Oxford allusions – and then pour the whole thing out into a riotous combination of good humour, touching emotion, and communal festivity. It felt like the Indian community of Oxford was throwing a party, and every audience member was wholeheartedly invited to join.
The catchword of this production is ‘enthusiasm’. It covers the frequent, lively and well-choreographed dance sequences: the good-humoured script and its occasional flashes of brilliance (if the eyes are the windows of the soul, why shouldn’t they need a window cleaner?) and the hilarious abandon by the artificially besotted characters. The four leads throw Shakespeare to the winds and attack their modernised roles with gusto. Loud applause particularly goes to Venkat Rao and Sam Liu, as the respective Demetrius and Lysander counterparts. As the action’s demands become ludicrous, so their performances rise to the hysterical commitment and enthusiasm it requires – until both are outdone by the total sexual aggression of Eliza Lorimer’s enchanted Titania-type. As a charming counterpart to the hilarity, Hannah’s (Georgia Figgis) loneliness and self-deprecation capture the audience’s empathy with familiar teenage emotion; until her isolation is resolved in a brilliant twist which also deals with one of the biggest plot holes in Shakespeare’s canon.
Dan Shearer’s direction expertly guides the cast through the celebrations, and brilliantly deals with the tricky demand of realistically depicting the intimacy of each relationship (and further distinguishing true love from the drug-induced amour). Although the performances relied heavily on physical action rather than the script itself, which suggests lack of confidence in his text, in the ‘play’ atmosphere the piece induces however this was hardly significant.
Anirudh Mandagere’s script beautifully reworks the Midsummer’s narrative into an enthusiastic marriage between Oxford and Indian culture: addressing contemporary concerns of young love, college geography, and modern Indian culture (the production has donated 20% of its profits to the charity Karma Nirvana, which works to prevent forced marriage and honour-based violence). Although the production ended last night, the wheels are presumably rolling for 2015 – a night to keenly anticipate.