First seen in the UK as part of the 2012 Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, the Dmitry Krymov Lab return to the Barbican with their very loose adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The title, a cheekily knowing pun, hints that audiences shouldn’t arrive expecting a traditional approach to Shakespeare and, good as their word, the production bares only a faint resemblance to the original. Stripped away are all elements of the lovers’ escape to the forest and the night’s fantastical adventures; the focus instead is entirely on the rude mechanicals performance of Pyramus and Thisbe to the Court in the play’s final scene.
Yet one cannot dare to perform this play without a sense of the fantastical and this wonderfully imaginative company have inserted a puckish spirit that runs through the production – witness the fountain that unexpectedly soaks most of those in the front of the stalls as the company bumble onto the stage, or the inept ballerinas that close the show and positively dare the audience to laugh at children; these are the kind of mischievous pranks laced with faintest tincture of actual malevolence that Robin Goodfellow would certainly have approved of.
It is also a truly fantastical production thanks to the skillfulness of the performers. Hidden amongst the apparently dishevelled cast are talents that incorporate sublime circus skills, puppetry and singing that brings life and emotional register to a production that always seems one step from disaster. Often in productions the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe is little more than a parody of amateur acting troupes and we see actors playing at being bad actors; here we see actors who genuinely resemble craftsmen putting on a show to their best of their ability. We are drawn in by their passion for their craft and as a result within all the comic effects we begin to care for these absurd puppet caricatures of the lovers.
For all their talents what stops the Lab becoming another Cirque De Soleil is that there is always a purpose underpinning the action. They come up with wonderful ways to express ideas but they are nearly always tied to a clear purpose. With companies like Cirque De Soleil everything is delivered with such a ponderous self-importance that it fatally weighs down anything of substance but here their exists a joyously absurd spirit to the production that means it is impossible not to be swept along.
We are in the middle of LIFT 2014; the annual festival that is both glorious celebration of international theatre and sober reminder of the staid and conservative nature of so many Anglo-American creations.
This can rarely be seen as starkly as in the spell-binding Opus No 7; concocted by the Dmitry Krymov Laboratory, it combines sublime beauty with haunting imagery to create a remarkable balance that allows a curiously harmonious co-existence of opacity and clarity. As it overwhelms the senses one is left with the impression that this is a performance that could not have been conceived of in this country let alone created here.
Watching Opus No 7 is like working through a cryptic crossword clue. The explanation of the image is always tantalisingly close but remains impenetrable until resolved. There are no easy answers but one holds on to the images as they morph fluidly from one startling creation to another with faith that a narrative will emerge.
Images coalesce until they suggest an idea. The piece is often without dialogue and usually underscored with the lightest of musical notes, faintly directing and reacting to the action. The first half is titled ‘Genealogy’ and tells the tale of the Jews in the second world war but with continually hints to the wider narrative of Jewish history and their earliest beginnings. Biblical reference points abound and their cast have a childish innocence that harks back to the earliest days of God’s children.
They are nameless figures who slowly wander through their past claiming fragments – taking the form of letters, photos and memories – to shape their lost identity. They seem scattered to the wind, lost as individuals but finding each other as one finds ones community. They exist in a hinterland reminiscent of Beckett and the image of Krapp winding through his old tapes comes to mind as they pore through scraps of books becoming intrigued by the unfamiliar words, the sounds and shapes of names that no longer mean anything to them.