You would not normally expect Shakespearean soliloquies to be perfectly delivered by an 8 year old, any more than you would expect Shakespeare’s mischievous fairy, Puck, to have morphed into a Blue Iguana. But audiences attending the Cayman Drama Society’s forthcoming production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream have plenty of surprises in store beginning this week.
The children’s production of the Shakespeare classic boasts a cast of some 30 talented and energetic children ranging in age from high school and college students to a 2-year-old boy.
The play opens on Friday, 25 November, at 7.30pm at Prospect Playhouse.
Director Alisa Bowen, who has 15 years’ experience in children’s theatre, in addition to having starred in a Royal Shakespeare Company production of the play herself, has adapted the play to make it accessible to children.
Instead of a magical forest, she chose to set the play in modern times, on a magical Caribbean island. Rather than fairies, the characters are those you might expect to find on and around a tropical beach.
“Titania, the queen of the fairy world, I have decided will be a beautiful mermaid. The fairy world has been transformed into jellyfish, lobsters, stingrays … we have a Caymanian parrot, we have two orchids that come to life, and a little Indian changeling boy,” she said.
The original script, which runs to approximately three hours, has been edited down, removing some of the bawdier elements and shortening some of the soliloquies, but otherwise remaining unchanged. Despite the Shakespearean English, the children, says Alisa, have no trouble understanding script or story.
“It amazes me how children absorb the text so quickly,” she says. “They soak up the Shakespeare and have no problem memorising it. It’s lyrical, poetic, things rhyme, it has a beat. They know their cue most likely rhymes with the next line, so it’s easy for them to sort it out.”
Many of the children had seen or even read the play in school before.
“The boy who plays Snug, Matty Cook, the first thing he told me when he came to the audition was that he had spent two nights lying in his bed, with his headphones on, listening to the BBC radio version of the play,” Alisa said.
Their enthusiasm and energy is clear to see when I stop by at rehearsal time, and the way in which these children and teenagers, who didn’t know each other a few weeks ago, work together is inspiring. The talent and motivation they display, however, is perhaps the greatest surprise.
Alisa was similarly surprised when she was holding auditions.
“Because Puck is a lead role, I was assuming I would be casting a high school student. But Melody Allenger [who is just 8 years old] blew me away at the audition. She had two monologues memorised, she took over the stage and she nailed Puck.”
Having found her Puck, Alisa built the rest of the cast around her.
“Alex Hayman (who plays Helena) had just moved here with her family and when she heard about the audition. She came straight to the audition from the airport.”
Two and a half months into rehearsals, their enthusiasm remains undiminished. “They have so much passion that it’s overwhelming … These kids they just love it – when rehearsals are over they just don’t want to go,” Alisa says. “These are children who don’t not want to not be in theatre. “Bottom [Alanna Warwick-Smith] told me that for her, theatre is like oxygen – she can’t breathe when she’s not doing theatre.”
Indeed, some are already asking about auditions for the next production. Others, older members of the cast, are juggling rehearsals and night classes.
With so much talent and enthusiasm from the cast, and a team of experienced directors and producers encouraging them all the way, A Midsummer Night’s Dream promises to be a colourful, comical and impressive performance.
The play opens on Friday, 25 November at 7.30pm. Tickets are available at www.cds.ky or 949-5054.