WILD TIME by Rose Biggin & Keir Cooper (BOOK REVIEW)
“Titania picked up her glass and drained it. ‘Bottom,’ she said. ‘Queen of the Fairies, remember? Do you think someone can put magic lube up my ass without me knowing about it?’”
Wild Time (2020) is a reworking of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream by writer, artist and performer Rose Biggin and her theatrical collaborator Keir Cooper. Biggin and Cooper use the scaffold of the familiar play as a launchpad for all kinds of theatrical chaos and explorations of sexuality. Engaging head on with the more problematic elements of the original, Wild Time reimagines Oberon, Titania, Puck and the rest of the fairy court in a dizzying postmodern adventure across space and time, from the myths of ancient Greece to planetary movements, all through the magic of theatre and human sexuality. Funny, sexy and entertaining, Wild Time brings a feminist perspective to Shakespeare’s beloved play, showing it in a whole new light whilst matching the original’s humour and love of wordplay and theatre.
Wild Time approaches its source material with a sly, postmodern, punk aesthetic. Oberon, Titania, Puck and the rest of the Fairy Court are guests of honour at the wedding between the Duke of Athens and the Amazon Queen. When a misunderstanding about a sexy Changeling ends up with Oberon making a fool of himself in front of Titania, he decides to make it up to her by gifting her a night of passion with Bottom, a male stripper working on a play in the forest. In this way, it acts as a feminist and sex-positive critique of the original play. Whereas in Shakespeare’s original, Oberon drugs Titania into having sex with the repulsive and idiotic Bottom as punishment, here sex is seen as a positive, uplifting force, one that can shift time and move planets. Rather than being jealous, Oberon and Titania have an open relationship that sometimes hits snags due to errors in communication. Instead of sex as punishment, Titania’s night of passion with a sexy, charming Bottom is a gift, one Oberon gives her because he values their relationship and realises that by exhibiting jealousy and controlling impulses he has done her wrong. The book is very sexually explicit, but in many ways that is the point – Shakespeare’s original play deals heavily with sex and sexuality, and bawdy humour, included here in updated and witty form, is one of the bard’s mainstays.
Wild Time is full of affection for its source material and for theatre in general. The novel playfully engages with the ideas and structures of theatre in inventive and unexpected ways. Just as in the original play, which features the players putting on an adaption of Pyramus and Thisbe, there is a play within the play which Bottom and co. are rehearsing for – in this case Death of a Sailsman, a riff on the Arthur Miller play, transported back in time to Ancient Greece and given a mythological focus. The novel has an opening and a curtain call, and in between its various set-pieces we see the actors behind the characters preparing their roles and decorators preparing the sets, whilst the characters themselves are very aware they are acting out a performance. This playful approach to form is echoed by the book’s gleeful anachronisms, in which Ancient Greek gods get blackout drunk in bars and the Amazon Queen goes on a raucous hen party with her fellow Amazons, on the lookout for shots and kebabs. Meanwhile the characters’ various sexual couplings are echoed by celestial movements, in which galactic bodies get hot and heavy with each other. Biggin and Cooper somehow manage to martial all this glorious chaos into a workable structure, creating an outrageous, ambitious and delightfully surprising riff on a well-known story.
Much of the novel’s success is down to Biggin and Cooper’s command of and love of the English language. The novel deftly switches through a number of tones and registers, from lyrically poetic to salacious to wryly humorous. Further evidence of their background in theatre is their kinetic dialogue, witty and fast paced and memorable. While Wild Time is in dialogue with Shakespeare’s work, and doesn’t shy away from criticising A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s problematic or outdated elements, it is clearly written with a lot of affection for the original play. The novel brings all the magic and mystique of the Fairie Court, the gleeful inventiveness and the imaginative use of language and stagecraft that have made the play an enduring classic, whilst bristling with new ideas and a punky aesthetic that is very much its own. With its bawdy humour, sharp dialogue, and imaginatively staged set pieces, it’s easy to imagine the Bard himself enjoying this take on his work very much.
You can find out more about the authors and get yourself a copy of Wild Time here.