We’ll never know what, if anything, Shakespeare was on when he wrote A
A high-energy production, that is a joy to watch; full of wit, repartee and humour
Midsummer Night’s Dream, but the team at Intermission Youth Theatre have based their ‘Shakespeare Remix’ firmly in the world of hallucinatory drugs with a brilliantly devised piece they’ve called MSND. Full marks for the title alone.
It’s available only at Chelsea Theatre, where a versatile fairytale woodland fills the stage, courtesy of designer Delyth Evans, magically lit by Julian McCready who has mixed colours to give some of the hottest shades ever seen on stage, though perhaps on many a trip. There is nothing sacred about the text here and where famous lines from other plays fit the bill they are comically introduced. The script is treated as an old garment from which pieces have been cut out and onto which patches on themes of identity, relationships, and substance abuse have been sewn to create a new style that retains the structure and some of the finer points of the original. The language used by the actors in the passages they have devised is street talk, though often poetic; a sharp reminder that Shakespeare spoke and wrote in the language of his day; his works were accessible to the people and Intermission Youth take us back to that time.
The original play is complex, if not confusing, so here is what the company has to say about this version, pretty much verbatim. After abusing Titania’s trust, Oberon is refused access to his daughter, Asia. His best friend, Puck, tries to cheer him up and when a new drug hits the street he sees this as the perfect opportunity. But this isn’t any old drug, this is MSND. Once taken, it is believed you inherit special powers, including the ability to speak Shakespeare. Oberon is convinced that with the help of this drug, he can get to Asia, but, unbeknown to him, Titania also stumbles upon MSND, so has powers of her own! The temptation of the drug lures them to the playground, where they take on the role of King and Queen of the fairies. Or maybe they are just high? Meanwhile, school is out for the summer and Lysander, Demetrius, Theseus and Egeus place some names in a hat. Whoever they pick, they must bed, before the showcase tomorrow evening. Things turn ugly, however, when Egeus discovers that his sister, Hermia is in the hat. To win the bet, the boys persuade the girls to follow them into the playground. Also rehearsing in the playground are a group of performers, determined to put on a good evening of entertainment for their school showcase. They too stumble upon MSND. After much coming and going, many explanations and in the light of new understandings all is ultimately resolved.
The team that last year gave us the thrilling Juliet and Romeo remains very much the same. For those not familiar with the company, and anyone who is passionate about theatre should be, Sir Mark Rylance, who is on the Board of Trustees and deeply involved in its work, explains, “Intermission Youth is a sanctuary for youth. It is a safe place to do unsafe things like express your feelings truly, depend upon others, trust in yourself, and play Shakespeare plays as if they were made for you this morning. Under the genius direction of Darren Raymond, IY has for fifteen years created the most lively, original productions of Shakespeare plays that I have witnessed in London. This is Shakespeare liberated from its time and brought to life in the culture, wit, and wild soul life of London’s young and too often excluded generation”.
The result is a high-energy production, that is a joy to watch; full of wit, repartee and humour but not afraid to engage in more solemn moments and to drive home its message. There’s never a dull moment as a cast that exudes confidence covers every inch of the stage, standing on boxes, leaping from one to the other, embracing the poles, peering through windows and occupying the throne-like built-in chair while using the aisles for exits and entrances. The everyday clothes keep it rooted in the present, but Costume Designer Caitlin Clarke has had some fun with the special outfits as required and her colours are well-matched. An extended creative team consists of Assistant Director Nana Antwi-Nyanin, Stage Manager Elisabeth Tooms, who has plenty to keep her busy, Raymond’s executive Assistant Olivia Fraser and Producer Patrick Glackin. There are twenty actors in the group and they all feature in both Cast 1 and Cast 2 which alternate, giving maximum performing opportunities to the whole ensemble.
Intermission Youth was set up in 2008. Their aim remains unchanged: ‘to help transform the lives of disadvantaged youth aged between16-25yo, young people living in deprivation and experiencing high levels of anti-social behaviour, family breakdown, dependency, and criminality. They believe that constant support, nurture, and care in a young person's life can give them the confidence and belief to make positive choices and change the course of their lives’. And it works.
This year I spoke to several actors I’d met last year and others who have been through the experience of Intermission Youth. Their stories of transformed lives and opportunities opened up confirm everything the company says. Imagine what could be achieved if every borough, town and city had an Intermission Youth!