By Alec Deacon
“1892 a King from Africa, his name was King Jaja, came to Barbados and fell in love…”
Written around 1600 William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, allegedly voted the most performed Shakespeare play of all time, has seen many adaptations, as with most of his works, from ballet to musicals, films and television. Settings have included a rave, where Puck is transformed into a peddling drug dealer, and a Walt Disney animation featuring Mickey Mouse. The Bard has proven his cross-cultural and diverse appeal ten times over for sure.
And now we find A Midsummer Night’s Dream re-purposed and relocated to present day Barbados in the latest feature from writer/director Shakirah Bourne. Re-titled A Caribbean Dream, this latest adaptation has been in the works since 2016 and is just now getting a modest wide-release.
Although A Caribbean Dream follows the same basic plot of Midsummer it does not require the average viewer to have read the original, and separates itself even further when the characters are not speaking loose Shakespeare they are using a mix of native dialect that outside of the Caribbean might be difficult to interpret; add into that references to specific Caribbean cultural heroes and legends, for example, Nigerian King Jaja and his love Becca, Father of the Woods – Papa Bois, the Douens (the lost souls of children) and Mami Wata the water spirit – and it all makes for a rather eclectic mix. Ironically, had the makers utilised the cultural folklore more, simply swapping out Shakespeare characters for the ones mentioned above, it may have made for a far more satisfying adaptation.
A Caribbean Dream was shot on location on the director’s home of Barbados and filmed in the charming surroundings of Fustic House, St Lucy. However, outside of some nice beach scenes, you would be hard pressed to tell where it was in the world. Sadly all night scenes in the forest clearing look like they are shot on a sound-stage and if it were not for the home grown talent it would be very difficult to tell where this was supposed to be set. It could be any beach town, in any tourist trap around the world. The CGI special effects are sadly lacking any polish also; it is not to say they are hugely bad, it is just more akin to a television budget.
Would anyone expect A Caribbean Dream to be an accurate representation of Caribbean life? Unlikely. But the stereotypes are writ large for sure. The English characters are posh and ridiculous, with the local islanders finding the white folk quaint and humorous. Filling out these characters are locals, Keshia Pope as Helena, Sonia Williams as Hippolyta, Adrian Green as Oberon/ Head Gardener, Jherad Alleyne as Lysander and British based actress Lorna Gayle as Bottom. The rest of the UK cast includes, Susannah Harker as Titania/ Head Housekeeper, Marina Bye as Hermia, Patrick Michael Foster as Puck/ the Butler, Sam Gillet as Demetrius, and Aden Gillet as Theseus.
A Caribbean Dream is billed as a ‘‘refreshing, energetic production, set in a Barbadian tropical paradise…’ where ’chaos ensues when a handful of hotel staff turned into a troupe of mischievous fairies who tamper with the destination wedding plans of three multi-cultural couples during Crop Over Festival.”
Does ‘‘multi-cultural couples’’ really need to be included in the blurb? This story is set in the present day; they are just couples, show it don’t advertise it, surely? Even though A Caribbean Dream makes some interesting statements about interracial marriage, it does seem to hit the post with any real meaningful comments. What is also a little strange, especially when taking in to consideration that A Caribbean Dream was adapted by an all-female writing team, Melissa Simmonds and director Shakirah Bourne, is that while the couples are of mixed race it would appear African women come off as the second-rate choice to the white women in the affections of the men in the story.
In A Caribbean Dream it very much comes across, that the two leading narrative threads that being, Hermia and Lysander, and Oberon and Titania that, Caucasian women are the top trophy for black men. The only woman of race seen in a positive fashion is that of Hippolyta (Sonia Williams), conventionally portrayed as a strong Amazonian Queen but in this interpretation she is sidelined for much of the action.
Ultimately, filmed Shakespeare can go one of two ways: shot like a fluid moving modern motion picture, or with static angles like a stage performance. A Caribbean Dream is very much the latter; nothing is to adventurous in scope or delivery, it knows its limitations and works with it, giving an open-air, bite-size Barbadian Bard performance.
A Caribbean Dream is released on DVD on Monday (12 February). Check out the official UK trailer below: