We went to see Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Sydney Theatre tonight. A friend bought the tickets, we were just told it was Midsummer Night’s Dream. I really should have found something more out about the performance.

I like fairly challenging books: I believe that the reader should occasionally be made to work for it. I love Pynchon and I enjoy Woolf. I am a huge fan of Shakespeare and I’ve enjoyed pretty much every production I’ve seen, even when I didn’t know the play, both traditional and modern interpretations.

We left this play at intermission, along with a pretty significant proportion of the audience. I have never done that before. I won’t even walk out of a bad movie.

This was plain awful. Absolutely, completely unwatchable. Why? It’s about 60% performed in Hindi, with no sub- or sur-titles. If you don’t speak fluent Hindi you won’t be able to understand what the characters are saying most of the time. I know that’s obvious when I say that it’s performed in Hindi, but the Sydney Theatre really didn’t make this obvious enough. I was also handicapped here as I didn’t know the play. I’ve seen parts of it before, and remember some scenes but I don’t know the overall plot and characters. I certainly couldn’t imagine what was happening when I couldn’t understand the dialogue.

The opening scene to establish the plot was entirely in Hindi, and from then on I had absolutely no idea what was going on. Mana tried to help out by whispering brief explanations as she has previously studied and performed this play. But she couldn’t keep this up, and by this stage it was pretty much too late: I already had no idea who any of the characters were.

What do I know of Midsummer Night’s Dream? Well, there’s one of my favourite Shakespearian lines:

If we spirits have offended, Think but this and all is mended: You have but slumbered here While these visions have appeared. - Puck

That’s from memory, so excuse any mistakes. I also remember the sarcasm, wit and lyricism of Puck. And I missed all that in this performance. Surprisingly enough, the play would have been better if it was entirely performed in Hindi: when they were speaking English I could follow what was happening and start to get involved. Then they would switch back to Hindi, kicking me out of any involvement, and leaving me bored and disconnected in my seat. But, then I would try to get involved again in the dance and acting, only to be booted again when they switched back to English.

Shakespeare is entertainment, especially his comedies. These were great works meant to illuminate the human condition, while also highly engaging and entertaining. Anyone should be able to watch a production and enjoy it. The only people who could enjoy this production were those who spoke fluent Hindi, and those who already knew the play intimately. And while I fully support the production of entertainment for specific languages, this should not be promoted to a larger audience as something for everyone. Because is it’s not: this is an exclusive production only meant to be enjoyed by those who have already studied the play.

And I don’t like this artificial, constructed exclusivity in the arts.