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Dmitry Krymov - A Midsummer Night's Dream (As You Like It)


The Russians, it has often been noted, approach Chekhov in a vastly 
different manner than how English theatre-makers do. Where a home-grown 
production of The Cherry Orchard might be full of laughs, a British 
take on Chekhov is likely to make heavy classicist weather of the 
playwright's pre-absurdist ennui. Whether the same reverence applies to 
Russian directors when taking on Shakespeare's canon remains to be seen 
as Russian wunderkind Dmitry Krymov arrives at the Edinburgh 
International Festival this week with his version of ultimate seasonal 
rom-com, A Midsummer Night's Dream.

In an EIF theatre season that is awash with reinvented classics, 
Krymov's Dream has been brought to Edinburgh via the Moscow-based 
Chekhov International Theatre Festival and Krymov's own Laboratory 
School of Art Theatre Production. The production was commissioned, 
however, by the Royal Shakespeare Company, who have just previewed it 
over nine days as part of the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival.

Unlike what one might suspect from a pukkah-voiced RSC show, however, 
Krymov's emphasis will be on a visual reimagining of the play. This 
looks set to incorporate life-size puppets made from a Frankenstein's 
monster style jumble of sources that lend a collage-like feel to the 
production.

“The idea came from the RSC,” Krymov says via a translator of his new 
production's genesis. “I was very happy to receive the invitation, and 
it was one I couldn't refuse. The main thing for me was, as the play 
was written so long ago, how do I deal with it now and appreciate it 
for today. With the play I had very little to do. I don't know anything 
about love with donkeys, but Shakespeare is a genius. He writes about 
the same things in different plays, but in opposite ways, so a 
phenomenon can be seen both as tragedy and comedy. This gives you 
plenty of opportunities to play with these ideas.”

Which, to all intents and purposes, is what Krymov's Laboratory was set 
up to do. Even its existence in its current form came about more by 
accident than design.

“The Laboratory was made by chance,” says Krymov. “It was initially a 
course for set design at the Moscow Academy, but then first year 
students started making their own productions. Many students became set 
designers, nut now there are graduates who become actors and form 
companies as well.”

In spirit, then, Krymov's work sounds more akin to performance and live 
art interventions that grew out of art schools in the 1960s and 1970s. 
Now, as then, developing such a form of total theatre that is rooted in 
design faced considerable resistance from more dyed in the wool 
institutions more used to individual art-forms being compartmentalised.

As the son of director Anatoly Efros and critic Natalia Krymova, Krymov 
has been steeped in theatre his entire life. It was to design he turned 
to first, however, and, after graduating from the Moscow Art theatre 
Studio school in 1976, he worked with his father for nine years at the 
Taganka Theatre in Moscow, where Efros was artistic director between 
1985 and 1987. For the next thirteen years following his father's 
death, Krymov designed more than a hundred productions, both in  Russia 
and further afield in France and Japan.

As the collapse of the Berlin wall presaged the collapse of Communism 
in 1990, Krymov turned his back on the theatre to become a full time 
artist, exhibiting worldwide. He only returned to theatre in 2002 when 
he joined the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts, working in the design 
department. Only then did he try his hand at directing via a production 
of Hamlet.

Two years later, Krymov began his bold new curriculum, which resulted 
in the sorts of self-generated productions that led to the formation of 
his Laboratory. The acclaim that resulted from Krymov's more holistic 
approach to making theatre via cross-artform methodology raised 
eyebrows in some quarters, although Krymov continues to work with his 
students in this way to this day. This year alone, the laboratory have 
produced four shows which have utilised a mixed media approach 
alongside the work of young Russian composers.

Of all of Shakespeare's plays, A Midsummer Night's Dream  has lent 
itself to wild interpretations more than any other. Both Peter Brook's 
seminal post-hippy 1970 production and Peter Hall's take on the play 
two years before were produced by the RSC. In a way, Krymov's take on 
things is getting back to the free-form radicalism of the arts-labs 
that influenced both his predecessors. Yet Krymov hoes even further, 
his influences ranging from Polish guru Tadeusz Kantor to icons of the 
Russian avant-garde who so influenced post-modern theatre today.

Krymov's Dream, then, looks set to be an irreverent and audacious set 
of actions influenced as much by art history as a theatrical one as it 
bursts into life. One thing it most certainly won't be, is faithful to 
received ideas of Shakespeare.

“We don't aim to become Englishmen or behave like English people,” 
Krymov says. “We remain ourselves in order to make it the most exciting 
theatre production that we can. When Americans do Chekhov, they don't 
pretend to be Russians, and so we too keep our own identity.

A Midsummer Night's Dream (As You Like It), King's Theatre, August 
24th-25th, 7.30pm, August 26th, 2.30pm
www.eif.co.uk
The Herald, August 23rd 2012

ends

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