William Shakespeare’s comic tale of love, enchantment and fairies in the forest will be brought to life in the Kingdom this week by the Phnom Penh Players.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream tells the story of four young men and women from Athens embroiled in a vicious cycle of unrequited love.
When they end up in the forest one night, the marital woes of the fairy king Oberon and the queen Titania become intertwined in the humans’ affairs as magical enhancements manipulate the lovers.
Meanwhile, a group of workmen who are putting on a play get caught in fairyland as they struggle to put on their newest production.
“It’s a show that I’ve always really loved, and it’s one of the more accessible Shakespeare pieces without being too overdone,” said director Teia Rogers, an American freelance NGO consultant.
Louisa McKerrow, who plays the role of Titania, said that it had been a privilege to act as the fairy queen.
“I’ve always wanted to play a fairy, and she’s a wonderful character,” McKerrow said, adding that the Shakespearian dialogue is like speaking “another language”.
Rogers, who has in the past directed the Phnom Penh Players in Cigarettes and Chocolate and The Vagina Monologues, said that taking on the classic has sent her out of her comfort zone due to the show’s long, complicated dialogue.
“We’ve got a few non-native English speakers, and it’s an interesting challenge when you’re trying to tackle text that’s not part of your everyday language,” Rogers said.
She added that the cast includes actors from the US, the UK, the Philippines, Australia and France.
In Shakespeare’s Globe back in the Elizabethan era, women weren’t allowed to act, so men would play the female parts. For the Phnom Penh Players, however, the situation is the opposite. Few men auditioned for the production, so the ensemble has substituted traditionally male roles, such as that of the fairy Puck, with actresses.
Such creative liberties lend themselves well to Shakespearean productions, Rogers said.
“Having a limited pool of people to work with, you have to be easygoing about certain things,” she said.
Were Rogers to have played a part, she said that she would have chosen the traditionally male role of Lysander, a young Athenian who is in love with Hermia when the play begins, but who later falls head-over-heels for Helena with the help of the fairies’ magic.
“He’s just so much the lover – his primary focus is to love and be loved, and that motivates him in a lot of ways, and there’s something very fun about that and something very sweet about that, whereas the others are mischievous or temperamental,” she said.
The end of the play is not explicit as to whether or not the magical night in the woods was just a dream. But Rogers likes to think it really happened for the characters.
She said: “I don’t necessarily think their consciousness has been bound together and they’ve had this collective dream.
“I like to believe in the world of the fairies and that the characters had an actual experience, because for me it carries a lot of room to be quite fun and interesting to believe [the fairies] are not part of a make-believe world but part of this space in the real world.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream marks Rogers’ last production in Cambodia before she leaves the country.
With the show wrapping up this weekend, she said she has mixed feelings. Most of the cast, she added, are first-timers at the Phnom Penh Players.
“Obviously I’ll be relieved when it’s done, but I’ll be sad because it’s been very fun. It really brought people out [to audition] we hadn’t seen before, and it’s been very lovely to get to know all these new people,” she said.
McKerrow added: “We all work together really well. As a group effort, it’s been a great learning experience.
“We have all helped each other to bring out the best of our characters.”