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Shakespeare in a Safe Place

May 31, 2016

Midsummer Night's Dream

For the lack of much else to do, last night I watched the BBC’s latest version of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.

It would be a cheap shot to say that Russell T Davies, who adapted the play, sought inspiration from Doctor Who – one of his other claims to fame – for his production values. So I won’t. Nor will I laboriously list the ways in which he inserted gay, lesbian and ethnically diverse threads into the plot. Or the way he turned the patriarch Theseus into a fascist dictator and did away with him in the final scene.

After all, it was only TV – just another ninety minutes to fill on a dull Monday night.

Yet I do think his reported comments when speaking at the Hay Literary Festival were quite interesting. He justified his treatment of the play by saying that this is 2016. Young girls watching the play, for example, should not be exposed to the idea that lovers commit suicide when thwarted in their desires. As a member of the Hay audience implied, best then not to expose them to Romeo and Juliet.

Most revealing of Davies’ comments was that he wouldn’t countenance the reference to suicide because:

“I’ve got to put my name on this and I don’t care what Shakespeare was thinking, I don’t care, it’s my name on it. It was kind of standard in the 1590s, it is not standard now. I’m deliberately hoping to get young girls watching this and I will not transmit lines in which women are so much in love that they are threatening to commit suicide.”

Evidence of a shrieking ego, I would have thought. It’s his name on it, so perhaps it would have been more accurately billed as “Russell T Davies’ Midsummer Night’s Dream, featuring poetry by William Shakespeare”.

Also evidence of a BBC frightened of its shadow. Did it submit the script to the National Union of Students LGBT Committee for confirmation that it was appropriate for viewing in a safe space?

Maybe not. The recent production of the history plays was hardly safe. But The Hollow Crown drew inspiration from the wildly popular Games of Thrones, so that was all right. Or was it the other way round? Doesn’t matter. This is 2016 – we create our own reality, right? And this Midsummer Night’s Dream would surely have passed muster with our millennial Guardians of Morality.

Leaving aside such contentious issues, I quite enjoyed the production. Not because of the big names in the cast, Oberon’s horns and the welcome return of Richard Wilson, but because of the acting of some of the lesser-known players, especially Kate Kennedy, Prisca Bakare, Paapa Essiedu and Matthew Tennyson as the young lovers.

Easy entertainment, clearly not aimed at Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells, but at the generation that wants to be safe.

I do wonder, though, how Mr Davies would deal with The Taming of the Shrew, Coriolanus and the Merchant of Venice. I suspect they won’t be on the BBC’s production schedule any time soon.

From → Books, Film, Theatre, UK

  1. John Butler permalink

    His comment in the Guardian on Saturday should concentrate the mind of any undecided:
    ‘The EU referendum, he laughs, should be “the easiest vote in the world. I’ll vote in, of course. Mainly because everyone who’s campaigning to get us out is a fucking idiot. You look at them – there’s Gove, there’s Boris Johnson, there’s IDS. My mind is made up! Simplest vote in the world! I mean, don’t bother me with statistics – it’s easy.” ‘

  2. Nick Pearce permalink

    What any American democrat recommends for England, do the opposite!. Remember old Joe Kennedy in the 30s and his views on appeasement.

    • Er…. get your point, but not sure the old bootlegger’s advice sets a trend!

  3. Nick Pearce permalink

    Just thinking of Mr Obamas endorsement in the scheme of things and looking backward. Allow me a certain amount of trepidation about the coming vote.

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