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Should we modernise Shakespeare?

Sheridan Smith as Titania. Photo: Johan Persson
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By the time you read this, the latest show in the Michael Grandage Company’s season, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, will have had its press night, so you may have already heard that this production is a little bit different. I think the best way to describe Grandage’s reimagining is ‘sexy’.

But this isn’t a review. Everybody’s studied, seen or read A Midsummer Night’s Dream at some point in their lives, so the way we envisage it inevitably varies from person to person. Personally, I think of a production which I saw at Guildhall three years ago, featuring rising star Freddie Fox, who had to compete with some really impressive production values for a graduate production.

What I’m wondering is, how on earth can our young company respond to such a famous play with something of our own? Will we be using language like Shakespeare uses? Will we bring it into the 21st century? Watching Grandage’s new production of a play which, I’ll admit, wasn’t my favourite because it has been done to death, I think familiar work like this does need reimagining occasionally, or else I wouldn’t have fallen for Lysander – I mean, the play – all over again.

It’s not just the West End’s hot property, Sheridan Smith, which makes this production sexy, but Grandage’s interpretation of the fairies. Scantily clad in floating colours, passing around the spliffs and getting rather touchy feely, it injects this 400-year old classic with a distinctly youthful vibe. What’s exciting is that this term, the Futures company will be working alongside the older company, so we’ll be introducing some fresh ideas into the room.

The thing about the dress rehearsal is that we don’t only meet the other half of our company, but drama students also get invited to see the show.

Talking to a third-year drama student, I can’t help but think they’re facing similar problems in performing classical texts, but finding a way to make themselves stand out within them. It’s a seasoned argument, and although I don’t know how many Shakespeare purists are still out there, I personally think well-known plays like this benefit from bringing them forward in time. It identifies why the content is still relevant and in turn I believe this is a way to create contemporary audiences for classical work.

Grandage told Futures that this is the 28th professional production of Midsummer to open this year, never mind amateur/school productions. With numbers like that, is it possible to be original anymore? Perhaps a better way of putting my question is to ask, is it even possible to be traditional anymore? Bringing Shakespeare into the 21st century feels a little inevitable.

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