Director: Shakirah Bourne
Cast: Adrian Green, Susannah Harker, Sam Gillett, Jherad Alleyne, Marina Bye, Sonia Williams, Aden Gillett, Lorna Gayle
Watch A Caribbean Dream online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play / Sky Store
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is perhaps the best known of all Shakespeare’s plays, with its charming whimsy, child-friendly fantasy and that universal comedy staple, a man turned into a donkey. The idea of watching a new adaptation, then, might seem like a hard sell, but A Caribbean Dream lives up to its title’s promise of doing something different with the Bard.
The film is set on the island of Barbados, as a Midsummer festival looms – and wedding nuptials are on the horizon. Naturally, the natural world interferes with the jovial plans, and fairies Oberon (Adrian Green, also the head of gardening) and Titania (Susannah Harker, also the head of housekeeping) lead to a four-way web of mistaken identities and misplaced affections. All the while, a gang of fishermen prepare to perform a brand new play for the wedding – and the usual chaos unfolds, as they become drawn into the enchantments while rehearsing in the woods.
The Caribbean setting is gorgeously shot by director Shakirah Bourne, and the forest scenes bursting with colourful nature and beautiful costumes bring the magic of the original text to life in a fresh new way. The dialogue, too, nicely brings together Shakespeare’s way with words and Barbadian dialect. But while that aspect of the film works with genuine charm, A Caribbean Dream stumbles somewhat in its waking hours: condensing the play into barely 90 minutes, our four central lovers, Demetrius (Sam Gillett), Lysander (Jherad Alleyne), Hermia (Marina Bye) and Helena (Keshia Pope) never get a chance to make an impact, while the fishermen’s exchanges only just makes up in Barbadian rhythms what it lacks in Shakespeare’s wit. (Pyramus and Thisbe, sadly, becomes The Untold Story of King Ja Ja and Young Becka, the performance of which is notably missing the laughs you would normally expect.)
It falls to Lorna Gayle’s (occasionally too) enthusiastic Bottom and Patrick Michael Foster’s charismatic Puck to balance the merging of the film’s uneven halves. The result is an amiable, novel take on a familiar text, which touches on multi-cultural marriage and Caribbean traditions. It’s unfortunate, perhaps, that it arrives hot on the heels of the BBC’s adaptation of the play, which saw Russell T Davies embrace the text’s fantasy elements to astonishingly original effect: A Caribbean Dream never quite impresses on that level, but as an accessible, abbreviated introduction to Shakespeare, its playful shadows do little to offend.