Prior Group - Russia - New Zealand - Новая Зеландия - Россия

A Midsummer Night’s Dream in New Zealand Print E-mail

by Olga Suvorova, Prior Group

“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players”           (William Shakespeare)
In fifteen years of working as an interpreter I have found myself in different situations: flying in helicopters above vineyards with potential investors, descending thirty metres into the ocean with Russian tourists, checking out gigantic smelter pots with foreign top managers at one of Russia’s largest aluminium companies, supporting fellow countrymen while they were undergoing surgical procedures, and even going through numerous checks from the relevant services in order to gain access to the New Zealand Parliament to translate for the Prime Minister and Ministers. But until today the thought never entered my head that at some point I should be walking the streets of New Zealand’s capital … with the gigantic head of a 6-metre puppet.

It all began with a request from the New Zealand coordinators of the annual International Festival of the Arts in Wellington. I was asked to help out Dmitry Krymov’s Russian theatre troupe which had flown in to take part in the Festival. The group, made up of 32 persons, to say nothing of… the dog, was to perform from 25 February until 2 March. And the group needed an interpreter. Moreover the dog, as it later transpired, was a New Zealand dog and it, too, needed an interpreter – the Russian acrobat did not know canine commands in English.

An interpreter also came in handy for Irina, the unsmiling Wardrobe Director – here New Zealand assistants could not tell whether she could smile or not (– nothing personal, simply that Russians have a different attitude to a smile!) And also for Margarita, who was responsible for the actors, because, in addition to the Moscow actors there were New Zealand extras in the play – as spectator-investors and young ballerinas. And for a pyrotechnician who needed plasters on burns. And for two acrobats who were fined on arrival at the border for bringing food into New Zealand. And for the technicians who moved the 6-metre puppets on the stage. And that’s where the most entertaining part begins… It happened that we had to go to a building materials store to get the head of one of the dolls repaired. I have to acknowledge the professionalism of the New Zealand salespeople, they showed almost no surprise at us or our Head and gave advice on superglue and screws. It is true that at check-out local customers got a bit nervous, but nonetheless they did let go ahead us strange foreigners talking loudly in a foreign language, aggressively (as they saw it) waving their arms about (“Seryoga, I tell you it doesn’t glue! – ..You don’t tell me!) I brought up the rear of this strange procession and, with a smile, thanked all the New Zealanders in the queue. No doubt Alice felt the same in Wonderland... We left the shop with complete confidence that the head could be fixed and that meant that the play would go ahead. I glanced back. Everybody was silently following us with their eyes. Well, thought I, situation normal, taking into account the rehearsal for the play I am currently involved in.
The play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like It)”, which the Russians brought won an award at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival of the Performing Arts and is rightly considered a most interesting modern staging: Shakespeare without Shakespeare and with Shakespeare; organisational chaos; elements of complete surprise; dramatic shock; after our own fashion. The audience, having come to see a traditional Shakespeare performance, will either be deeply disappointed or will understand that this is indeed real Shakespeare.
The actions of the play take place in our day – investors have come to a new theatre to a performance of a Shakespearean play. The theatre building turns out not to be completed (woodchips and sawdust are sprinkled directly on to the heads of the audience).  The play is clearly not ready – the stage is empty. Suddenly there are shouts in Russian and through the doors through which the audience have only just entered the there, people in overalls appear. They are carrying a huge oak tree, on which a dog is sitting. Then they bring in a real fountain, and water sprays out in all directions over the audience... Finally, when the stage sets are in place the actors begin to change into their formal attire before the eyes of the astonished audience. Then huge 6-metre mechanical puppets appear of the two lovers who are the heroes of the play, operatic arias ring out, acrobats perform, the dog performs its tricks, and at the same time the New Zealand extras argue loudly, turning to the audience and asking whether everybody should leave the theatre or should stay and watch the strange performance out... Fifteen young New Zealand ballerinas come on stage to dance “Swan Lake”, but... It’s late and an elderly gentleman, in appearance very like Shakespeare, is already sweeping the stage... laughter, tears, Russian language, English subtitles on huge screens... a real spectator sent flying... The boundary between the artists and us, the audience,     disappears from the very first minutes – this is a tribute to the main producer of the performance, Dmitry Krymov. The theatre (1200 people) applauds, many of the audience standing...
“I wanted to show the big in the small. This is a story within a story. You don’t even notice that you are becoming part of the performance. You’re laughing and don’t even realise how what we are talking about in the performance has stopped being funny. Everything is now very serious. Now you feel sad, you empathise; now you are with us – that’s what I wanted more than anything else, to join the hearts of the actors and of the audience. In my own way, in New Zealand, I succeeded in doing this”, says Dmitry Krymov, Director of the performance.
“I was very much afraid and wondered how the New Zealand public would react to my performance. For a director there is nothing worse than an audience which does not react, which remains unmoved.
“I am glad. I am touched. The St James Theatre, 1200 seats, crammed to capacity. And the audience laugh, and the audience empathise – such a thrill!
“I am grateful to the New Zealand public and to the organisers for their initiative. Without their invitation we would never even have thought about New Zealand. I’d like to come back.”
And I, for my part, should like to thank Dmitry Krymov for his extraordinary waking dream, his team of administrators and actors, the New Zealand organisers for their initiative and trust, Vladimir Zvegintsev from the Wellington “Russian Club” for the news from the Festival organisers that they needed interpreters, and my outstanding assistants, Yana Gil’d, Irina Zyuzina and Tatiana Chipsanova, without whom the performance would not have been as successful as it was.... Curtain.



Russia - New Zealand Video

To see the video of Russia Channel showing Russian Rugby Team training in New Zealand, Feb 2011 please go to

Russia - New Zealand Quotes

A country of inveterate, backwoods, thick-headed, egotistic philistines. (about New Zealand) Vladimir Lenin, 1909
Полагаю, мы все были рады покинуть Новую Зеландию. Неприятное место. Коренное население лишено наивной простоты... и большая часть британцев - просто отбросы общества. Чарльз Дарвин, 1860

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Russia - New Zealand History

Every day that we were there the Zealanders would arrive at our sloops at about 10 in the morning and would remain until evening. Having traded their goods they would have lunch with us. They ate our dry bread, peas, kasha and sugar with real appetite. They did not like our salt beef at all and were not great fans of the pork, nor were they able to drink our rum and wine. From time to time they would help our sailors in their work, for which the hardest workers would be rewarded with nails. Sometimes, making merry, they would give us the pleasure of watching their dances and listening to their songs. For this, about 15 men would stand in a single line. One of them, stamping his foot, would begin to sing. In mid-verse there would suddenly be a common, quite quick and wild shout, then they would lift their arms up, extend them, and let them fall, while strongly stamping their feet, distorting their whole bodies and making fierce faces. They would finish this song by going down on one knee and making a frightful, lingering laugh. Our sailors adopted their dance and song very well indeed, and on our sloop at the South Pole where the daily dangers depressed the spirit, they would sometimes cheer everybody up with their imitation (of the haka - translated by Prior Group). N.Galkin, surgeon on board the Russian vessel “Mirny” (Peaceful), during their stay in New Zealand, Queen Charlotte Sound, Russian Expedition, 1820

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