Shakespeare Lives on Through the British Council
Sing J Lee reimagines Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to celebrate the author’s 400th anniversary.
This summer, it’s no secret that Shakespeare has been resurrected throughout London thanks to British educational organisation, The British Council.
The Shakespeare Lives initiative featured a host of events and activities to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the British playwright.
And Partizan director Sing J Lee was also involved in this feat, by creating a commemorative piece tha adapted one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. shots caught up with Lee to find out his inspiration on the job and what it was like bringing such an iconic literary story to life.
Were you given a brief for the spot or were you left to your own devices? And did you know immediately how you wanted to approach it?
The initial brief from the British Council was carte blanche. They were passionate in believing that this series was aimed at championing new perspective and were in full support of working with filmmakers and creatives that interpreted the Shakespeare canon in their own way, with little restriction.
I was introduced to this project through Viktoria Modesta who was already attached to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Along with her background in the research of future technology and my previous work that itself explored technology, identity and romance, the launchpad for this concept was immediate.
Obviously the stimulus for the spot was Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, but in terms of aesthetic and style what were you inspired by?
I wanted the dance to mimic the courting ritual of birds of paradise, the big flourishes and extreme display of expression. The idea was that Bottom, who was a virtual version of Titania herself, was fixated on seducing real life Titania. They would mimic each other in a conversation through body language, with the real Titania finally succumbing to being infatuated with her virtual self. There was an aggression to the scene, I wanted to capture it as if it were an action sequence more than dance.
Visually, I felt a more analog texture to this futuristic world would keep it from feeling too sterile. Noir tones and dirty lenses helped add a rawness and volatility to our image.
Why did you decide to modernise the Shakespeare classic in this way?
We are playing to a modern audience, we feature an incredibly diverse and progressive cast in Viktoria Modesta, Imma and Simon Wan. As a testament to Shakespeare’s legacy, it just felt so fitting that we could retell part of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in a way that is so relevant to scenarios today. What fascinated me most is that it wasn’t fantasy, but a reality that this idea of love in mistaken or fictional identity is very real, and can be found in our use of social media.
How long was the production process?
We were fortunate to have quite a lengthy prep time, given the budget constraints, this helped massively.
What was the biggest challenge you overcame on the job?
To find a location that would be as much a character to the film as everything else.
How did you get involved with the British Council’s Shakespeare Lives 2016 programme?
Viktoria Modesta brought me onto the project after she was asked by the British Council to work with a director on her play of choice.