Shakirah Bourne’s A Caribbean Dream is a luscious retelling of Shakespeare’s comedy in a modern Barbados setting.
Brush Up Your Shakespeareby Alexa Dalby
A Caribbean Dream
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Transposed inventively to the present-day Caribbean, Shakespeare’s play works amazingly well. All its loving couples are interracial, its beautiful beaches transform Athens’ ‘rude mechanicals’ into Bajan fishermen (and women) and Barbados’s tropical greenery is a wonderful, lush, warm stage for moonlit mystery and magic with fairies that embody African traditions in dress and dance that overwhelm any previous memories of namby-pamby Peaseblossoms.
Adapted by director Shakirah Bourne and producer Melissa Simmonds, the text has been heavily cut and it rattles briskly through the play in a mixture of the original dialogue and contemporary speech. The Bajan burr lends itself really well to the rhythms of the Shakespearean cadences – perhaps that’s how the English language sounded when it was first performed.
Theseus (Aden Gillett) and Hippolyta (Sonia Williams) are now a wealthy mature couple due to marry in a few days’ time and living in luxurious Fustic House. The criss-crossing pairs of lovers – Hermia (Marina Bye) and Lysander (Jherad Alleyne), Helena (Keisha Pope) and Demetrius (Sam Gillett) – now have mobile phones. As in the original, there’s play on the the word ‘fair’, which takes on more significance in this context. Puck (Patrick Michael Foster) is both Theseus’s elderly butler and the mischief-making instigator of the lovers’ confusions, the minion of the king of the fairies Oberon (charismatic Adrian Green) in his dispute with his blonde-braided queen Titania (Susannah Harker).
There’s interesting (though not entirely explicable) cross-gender casting for the fisherfolk. Bottom, the fisherwoman, is rather androgynously played by Lorna Gayle, which gives an additional twist to Titania’s obsession. The play within a play that they perform for Theseus is now part of a talent contest and, though it keeps some of the original dialogue, it is no longer the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe but the African Prince Ja Ja and Becka, a folk story as told by Peter Quince’s (Simon Alleye) grandmother. Interesting too is the almost Shakespearean casting of Becka as one of the male fisherman (jokily named Hook, Line and Sinker).
A Caribbean Dream may betray its low budget in the special effects at times, but it’s a vibrant, enjoyable reworking of the play. It’s glorious to look at, its sun-drenched island vistas are cheering as the British winter draws on in the same way as watching TV’s comforting Death in Paradise. Shot during a Barbados carnival, there are jubilant crowd scenes, and music and dance pervades the film, whether it’s calypso, soca or the drumming and flute of griot Ahwe Birdman, who, with the changeling boy (Mikkel Broby), quietly observes the fools these mortals are making of themselves. It’s charming and it makes Shakespeare accessible in a modern way – a good teaching aid for schools perhaps.
A Caribbean Dream is released in cinemas, on digital/on demand on 10 November 2017 in the UK.