Field of dreams
Steve Cramer talks to director Gordon Barr about Bard in the Botanics, and finds a Puck-Focussed Midsummer Night’s Dream, and a moral Othello
There might be a groan from theatre critics at yet another summer production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the park, but there's no doubting the resilience and popularity of the old standard. Also, as this upcoming production from Bard in the Botanics shows, there’s a lot that can be done on the politics of relationships.
The play contains the kind of embarrassing human quandaries that lie at the heart of the average emotional person. It dispels the guilt that we might feel in our interactions with lovers by liberating its characters’ passion without responsibility, or even fellow feeling to those about them. These characters inhabit their own pleasure principle. It takes not months or years, but seconds, to switch the focus of their passions from one to another - pure desire without the usual catch of being civilised is the name of the game. It is arguably one of the reasons the play is so popular.
This is what makes the idea of Gordon Barr’s version of Shakespeare’s summertime parks and fields classic so fascinating. For here Puck is the commanding figure over the lovers, a representative of pure anarchic desire, without the controlling influence emphasised by an Oberon, who reminds us that people need to feel responsibility to each other, and liberate their desires with at least some acknowledgement of the people around them.
‘Puck is creating a dream in this version, and the other characters get involved in it,’ says Barr. ‘I don’t want to get all psychological about it, but clearly the Mechanicals is ego and the Fairies is id. It’s not that kind of lyrical outdoor Shakespeare with fairies appearing out of trees and so on; it’s this dream world where characters find out a lot about themselves - it will challenge some of the audience’s expectations as it has only five characters. It’s quite different from the last Dream we did.’
And for all the legendary darkness of the play’s observance of human relationships, Barr’s version stresses that the action is a dream and that these characters aren’t really acting in a manner that would make them sociopaths in real life, so the audience is allowed a soft landing.
Meanwhile, at the Kibble Palace the second of this year’s offerings from Bard in the Botanics, Othello, also benefits from a makeover. ‘It’s not a play that’s built for outdoors, albeit that it first appeared at The Globe. There’s a claustrophobia and intimacy about it that wouldn’t suit the open spaces of the woodland and park. So it’s only since the Kibble Palace has opened to us that we thought we could do it,’ Barr explains.
For him, while issues of race underpin the play, there’s a kind of moral tragedy to the piece, as well, where the protagonist discovers that people very close to him are a rather tawdry lot, and can’t reconcile the fact to his world view.
Barr adds, ‘He has to judge others by his own standards of behaviour, but he learns, very painfully, that they aren’t up to that.’
Botanic Gardens and Kibble Palace, Glasgow, Wed 27 Jun - Sat 4 Aug