A Caribbean Dream is a romantic comedy drama adapted from William Shakespeare’s A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream. The film was written and directed by Shakirah Bourne – the writer of Two Smart and Pay Day – and adapted by Bourne and Melissa Simmonds, who was also a producer of the film. This adaptation of the well-known narrative is set in contemporary Barbados.
In this story, Hermia (Marina Bye) is set to wed to Demetrius (Sam Gillett), but she is in love with Lysander (Jherad ‘Lord Zenn’ Alleyne). Hermia’s father, Egeus, brings them before Theseus, who is to preside over the conflict. He rules that if Hermia does not marry Demetrius, she must forfeit her inheritance. Meanwhile, Helena (Keshia Pope) is in love with Demetrius, who will not even give her the time of day.
In the world of the Fairies, Oberon (Adrian Green), wants a little boy – who is in the possession of Titania (Susannah Harker) – to be his henchman. Having been refused the boy, Oberon has Puck (Patrick Michael Foster) retrieve a flower which he then uses to place a spell on Titania. Seeing the conflict among Lysander, Demetrius, Helena and Hermia, Oberon sends Puck to use the spell on Demetrius so that he will fall in love with Helena. However, Puck puts the spell on Lysander, making him fall in love with Helena and thus causing a host of confusion.
The most Barbadian element of the narrative is the re-imagination of the Craftsmen from the original play as fishermen from Six Men’s Bay, who seek to perform a play – King Ja Ja and Becka – to win the talent competition put on by Theseus.
My expectation was that the adaptation would not merely be set in present day Barbados, but that it would embody what can be considered “the lived experience of Barbados.” This was the impression I got from all of the promotional media; especially as the promotion features the song “Real Real Bajan” by AzMan. It would seem, however, that this was not the director’s vision.
A Caribbean Dream indeed contains markers of being in Barbados such as the inclusion of Bajan dialect, Fore-day Morning, Bajan music and the fishermen with their King Ja Ja play. Although the Barbadian elements do not seem like an afterthought, they do feel shoe horned into the film; causing their impact to be superficial as opposed to being an integral part of the narrative. Thus, they do not mesh tremendously smoothly with the elements that are lifted from the original play.
For example, the insertion of Fore-day Morning celebrations into the narrative feels tremendously forced. There is no motivation for the characters being there beyond the script saying that they should be – or perhaps it was there to show off the island. The film is really just the traditional play on screen, but delivered very cinematically. It appears that the goal was to present a beautiful visual experience in a magical world set in Barbados with the enchantment of the Shakespearean English; it was not to be a reimagining.
As expressed by Bourne at the preview of this film held during the Barbados Independent Film Festival, the film seeks to make the narrative accessible primarily to students whom would likely be doing the CXC. With that as the intent, I believe the film is successful and justifies the use of Early Modern English; which makes up the majority of the dialogue. I believe, however, that there will be some disconnect with the general viewing audience because of the use of the original language. You can follow what is happening for the most part, but at other instances, by the time you’ve translated one piece of dialogue, two or three other lines have passed and you are left a little bewildered.
When the film started, I was very captivated by the pristine visuals and sound mix. However, as it progressed, this captivation wore off as I laboured to follow the narrative because of the language. It is for this reason I believe that the film did not illicit a rife of laughter from the audience throughout the film, as most of the comedy comes from the dialogue in Shakespeare’s play.
There are moments of laughter, but those moments mostly hit the audience through the actions of the characters. The most engagement from the audience is the King Ja Ja and Becka play at the end put on by the very Bajan fishermen. That group was a great ensemble played by Simon Allyene, Angelo Lascelles, Ishiaka McNeil, Matthew Murrell and Lorna Gayle, who is from the UK.
The acting in this film is some of the best – if not the best – put to screen for a Barbadian produced film. The cast, composed of Barbadian and British talent, delivered remarkable performances.
My personal favourite was the Barbadian actor Patrick Michael Foster. His delivery reminded me that the work I was watching was Shakespeare, when other moments in the film lacked that magic. Watching this adaptation, one might forget the original play was written as beautiful poetry. It feels as though the cutting down of lines was so utilitarian that the spirit of the aesthetic of the original verse was lost.
I felt a little disappointed at the lack of rhythm and rhyme from the writing and line delivery. Rhythm and rhyme is what makes Shakespeare an enchanting experience! To have fallen there is to remove, in my opinion, the essence of his work. I’m not sure if it was irresponsible writing, rushed acting, or unfamiliarity with the heart of the content, but there is a lack in the film. Foster, however, masterfully injected that rhythm and rhyme. He truly is a superb actor and he reminded me that this is poetry.
On the other hand, the performance of Keshia Pope lacks authentic delivery. Throughout the film, it seems like she doesn’t really understand what it is that she is saying. While her delivery does not particularly lack inflection, every line seems to be delivered with the same emotion of a begging child. Indeed, Helena’s character is an emotional wreck for not being able to have the love of Demetrius, but I do not believe that everything Helena says will continually take on a whiney inflection or cadence.
The technical execution of this film is very good. The cinematography is beautiful throughout. It really does sell the magical vision of the director. It is the most fantastic production design work of any Barbadian produced film. Of particular note is the makeup of the character Bottom when she is transformed into a Black Belly Sheep. I loved the costuming; particularly of the fairies in the forest, as it is inspired by Kadooment/Carnival themes in addition to emanating that sense of a magical experience. The only costume that felt out of place to me was Oberon’s; I just kept seeing Adrian Green in green papier-mâché.
I can objectively say that this film is the best sound mix and edit of any feature length Barbadian produced film. Additionally, I loved the music of the film; great work from Andre Woodvine, as usual. The song ‘Real Real Bajan’ by AzMan was stuck in my head long after watching the film…but I found it a very oxymoronic song to be used for the start and ending of this film.
A Caribbean Dream is the most technically proficient Barbadian film to date. However, it is not particularly authentic to the lived experience of Barbados, although it advertises itself that way. I don’t feel as though this film will be held up as the quintessential Barbadian film narrative; that film is yet to be made. Will it be commercially successful? Maybe. But with great distribution and marketing overseas. Not because it will not be liked here in Barbados, but because of math and its slightly-over-one-million-dollar budget.
I left the film feeling like I had an enchanted visual experience, but confused as to why anything that happened occurred the way it did. For example, in the original play Theseus is a Duke, so we understand to some degree where his authority to determine that Hermia can lose her inheritance (or her life in the original play) comes from. In this film, he is just a third party; we have no idea of who he is really.
Nonetheless, I loved watching this film. The language was a challenge, but the film was a magical ride and not particularly pretentious – for those two hours, it’s a fun show for anyone.
You can watch A Caribbean Dream at Limegrove Cinemas and Olympus Theatres until March 7th.