Bright Summer Night

Date: 2016
Posted by: The Candle Wasters
Cast: Meesha Rikk (Puck Goodall), Kalisha Wasasala (Lena Balavu), Dani Yourukova (Deme George), Maddie Adams (Mia Selene), Shane Murphy (Zander Makau), Thomasin McKenzie (Petra Quince), Gala Baumfield (Nicky Xing), Nova Moala-Knox (Frankie Piper), Brendan King (Taylor Sutton), Jack Buchanan (Bryn Alberich), Neenah Dekkers-Reihana (Awhina Parekura), Mouce Young (Poppy Hóu), Freya Milner (Thea Quince)
Credits: Main credits: Elsie Bollinger (director, editor, script writer, music supervisor), Sally Bollinger (script writer, post production supervisor), Bevin Linkhorn (producer), Minnie Grace (producer), Jess Charlton (Director of Photography), Jen Smith (1st Assistant Director), Nicole Winer (1st Assistant Camera), Jordan Beresford (1st Assistant Camera), Jordan Beresford, Blair Berg, Ross Dredge, Alex Marie, Alexandra Farley, Anne van der Pasch, Michael Young, Mark Papalii, Andy MacRae (all 2nd Assistant Camera), Jessi Golding (Sound Recordist), Claris Jacobs (Production & Costume Designer), Nic Learmonth (Art Director), Robbie Nicol (Script Supervisor)
Duration: 10 episodes

The third Shakespeare web series by the New Zealand production team The Candle Wasters is its most polished and courageous work yet. The company’s first two series adapted Much Ado About Nothing (Nothing Much To Do) and Love’s Labour’s Lost (Lovely Little Losers), the second serving as a sequel to the first, with much of the same cast. Bright Summer Night, an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, shows some significant changes: a glossier production, a move away from the vlogging style in which characters spoke confidentially to the camera to a more usual dramatic style, a shorter number of episodes (a trim ten), and a new cast. The tone is also darker, the style more assured, the production credits that much longer. What was charmingly amateur has become ever more meticulously professional.

Shakespeare has once again be translated to the world and language of the young in modern day New Zealand, though such is the actors’ mixture of names and cultural heritages that it could be – and is meant to be – any place. The action takes place over the few hours of an all-night house party. All episodes bar the last are named after one of the characters and broadly shows the story from their point of view. The parallels with Shakespeare are amusingly made without being too forced: from the names of the characters (Hermia becomes Mia, Nick Bottom become Nicky, and so on), to the fancy dress theme which allows some of the players to wear fairy wings, to the rude mechanical becoming The Mechanicals, a band who put on a song for the rest of the party in the series finale. The four young lovers are now a heterosexual pair and a homosexual pair, Bryn (Oberon) and Awhina (Titania) a bickering senior couple, and Puck an ambiguous figure, whose personal uncertainty emerges as the series’ underlying motif.

The most striking is the use of recreational drugs to stand in for magic, a pill named Idleness being the cause of the lovers’ confusion, distributed by Puck. It is a practical dramatic solution, but a little shocking to see it applied so frankly.

360-degree promo video for Bright Summer Night, following Puck through the house party

The tone of the piece is far from the traditional light view of the play (such as the BBC’s recent production, produced by Russell Davies, kept to, for all its surface radical invention). No one is happy. The students are torn apart internally by the complexity of relationships, and externally by the problems of the world, especially climate change. Both are summed up in the Mechanicals’ song ‘Relationship Problems and the Environment’, which says “There’s so much wrong with the world, we’ll never make it better” but also declares that “We have to do something”. That becomes the message of the series, that, as difficult as things are, you move on, because you have to do so. The only character that cannot move on, it turns out, is Puck, and Bright Summer Night makes its strongest mark on Shakespeare’s play by turning it into Puck’s tragedy, as the memorable tenth episode makes clear.

Bright Summer Night benefited from a Kickstarter campaign, then gained support from NZ on Air and the British Council. it is a slick, confident production, impressively shot (all of it at night) and performed throughout, with particularly good integration of music into the scenes. It lacks the happy charm and ramshackle invention of its predecessors, and like some of its subjects perhaps takes things too seriously with insufficient reason for doing so. But overall this is inventive, thought-provoking and multi-layered filmmaking. Shakespeare, in his quatercentenary year, is proven to be as relevant and adaptable as ever.

Series of behind the scenes videos, with the points of view of the different groups of characters

Links:
YouTube series page
Behind the scenes series
Bright Summer Night section on The Candle Wasters’ site
Kickstarter page

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