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

Henry V 360

Date: 2015
Posted by: Royal Shakespeare Company
Cast: Alex Hassell (Henry V)
Credits: Original stage production directed by Gregory Doran
Duration: 2.20

Wherever there is technical innovation in the arts, Shakespeare soon follows. Soon enough, if some manufacturers have their way, we will all be wearing headsets to immerse ourselves wholly in virtual words, leaving flat screens and the distance between observer and observed behind forever. Well, may be not, but 360-degree videos are certainly a growth area, with YouTube now offering a section devoted solely to the form. You don’t have to have a headset to view them, but you do need to use the navigator on the screen or your mouse paid if you want to view the action to the front, back, top, sides or whatever.

And so you can explore all the angles available in this sample 360 video, courtesy of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the RSC and the Google Cultural Institute. Alex Hassell gives the ‘Once more unto the breech’ speech from Henry V on the empty stage of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford-on-Avon (staged by the RSC in 2015). He strides about vigorously to encourage us to follow him about the screen. We have to stay alert with the navigation, or we are in danger of losing him. Some curious feature of the 360 recording has made the actor look more like an video game version himself than an actual human being. Perhaps this is intentional.

It’s worth watching the video without touching the navigation tools at all. A pumped-up man in battle clothes strides towards, then beyond us. All we then see is an empty stage with some smoke billowing, while the man who strode past us shouts and breathes heavily out of sight, occasionally popping back into view as he gets more and more worked up, before disappearing again. Having said his piece he strides back into frame and exits the stage. It is an intriguing exercise in the absurd.

It is probably the first 360 Shakespeare video, and it certainly won’t be the last, though whether one will want to inhabit a full-length play in this way seems open to question. When they talk of horses, we will want to see them printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth, but that does not mean we will necessarily want to ride with them.

Links:
YouTube page
Royal Shakespeare Company at the Google Cultural Institute