Wednesday, 11 July 2012

A post of two parts

Here is a great benefit to the home ed world. We are connected.

I know it doesn't look that way. When the school-choosers eye-spy the solitary home ed family navigating the High Street at 11 o'clock on a Monday morning, they must imagine we are alone in the world, without friends, and excluded from all society.

It's probably not interesting to know we're taking the kids to an education - call it the High Street itself, or Tesco, post office, dentist, library, playdate, or the local community hall for a two-hour stick-and-paste session on Renoir. I sometimes think, I dare you. Ask me that question, No school today then? I'll play the devil and answer, Nah, Couldn't be bothered. We're all bunking off.

But we're not as solitary as anyone might think, trust me. Home educators have secret signs and magic codes! (Okay then, the telephone, email, and internet.) Late yesterday, in the midst of my solitary day (via Luton) I get a call. Psst! Four tickets going cheap! Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, Dunster's version of Midsummer Night's Dream. Wanna come?

Like I'll say No.

Home ed has the benefit not only of an active community all over this country, it also offers a scattered, half-planned life. We can be open to spontaneity and well-timed ideas, especially ones that seem good at the time. And so what, if it's a theatre production ending at eleven in a closed London park miles from home? It's not like I prise the kids out of bed each morning for the school run.

So tonight we leg it to London to breeze hello, and see Matthew Dunster's direction of Midsummer Night's Dream.

If you're thinking of going, I can tell you, I found Dunster's version both truly enlightening and utterly annoying.

Qualities which are sure to make me fall in love, so I won't be able to get it out of my mind for some time to come. A niggling scene will wriggle its way back into my head, piss me off, and then I'll have to think about it all over again; I'll come to a different conclusion than the one I made before. At that point, I'm enslaved to it forever and say, The Dunster Midsummer? That was a crucial production. You should have seen it.

Simply, the Dunster version brought the play to me in a whole new light. And for that, I am totally enamoured.

Placed in the present, you're met by a brilliantly vivid and realistic set. The setting fringes the mainstream - complete with road traffic noise, functioning crane, old caravans, directional signs, and ad hoarding. The promo highlights it as gypsy, although it could easily be travellers, migrant workers, temporary squats, condemned housing estate, construction site.

In this fringe society, one which is breaking apart while reasserting values and reproducing customs, the issues become mainstream social: what is it to make an abusive relationship, to forgive, love, take power over another, take control, rebel, comply, or find liberation?

I don't know how I could ever have missed some of these issues in this play, and it took Dunster's direction to bring them out. Take, for example, those lines, you are but as a form in wax By him imprinted and within his power To leave the figure or disfigure it. Why didn't I see the physicality and threatening brutality before? In this version, it's clear: Theseus speaks these words as Hippolyta, defeated queen, stands by his side, eye blackened, foot bandaged and wrist, broken.

Dunster brought out these readings and pulled this play to unambiguous ground. Queen Titania I never saw before chest naked, nor with such ferocious sexual energy. When the plastic purple dildo was waved about, Mary Whitehouse, aka Tiger, sitting next to me with her fingers over her eyes, whispered Did I know this play wasn't suitable for children?

No, I'll never see Midsummer Night's Dream again in the same light. But that strength was also its weakness. Because even without the director pulling it about here and there, it's a strange play of parts. We already have to collectively agree that yes, they belong together - Athens, woodland fairies, court politics, personal love traumas, summer nights, brawls, magic, confusion of identities, patriarchal order.When you add in My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, sexual politics and a group of construction workers banding together to perform Pyramus and Thisbe, I'm not convinced the whole thing gelled.

Perhaps it didn't matter, and perhaps it didn't need to. I tell myself, I overthink everything. You're going along on a surprise to sit in Regent's Park, for Heaven's sake, and Pyramus and Thisbe was ridiculously funny, exactly as it should be, so just be grateful for the spectacle of disco trees set in an imaginative location.

Go. It might work for you, or it might not, depending on how you like your Shakespeare.

But, if you take my advice, pick an evening with a clear sky. Unless, like us, you take advantage of a sudden phone call providing late seats in the wettest July on record, when you have to tell yourself that you enjoy the irony of watching magical frolics in a hot summer forest, while you sit drenched with cold sleeting rain sluicing down your face.

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