wed 19/12/2018

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's Globe | reviews, news & interviews

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's Globe

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's Globe

New artistic director Emma Rice makes a joyfully irreverent start

'Come not near': First Fairy (Nandi Bhebhe) sings Titania (Meow Meow) to sleepSteve Tanner

In this 400th anniversary year, amid what feels like 400 million shows and tributes, it’s increasingly difficult for a Shakespeare production to stand out. No such problem for Emma Rice’s opening salvo, which responds to those critical of her appointment in resolute fashion. Never thought you’d see fireman’s poles, amplification, Indian sitar and disco lights at the Globe? Think again.

Rice’s Dream honours the spirit of the building without feeling bound by its period-perfect architecture. Rather than Athens, we are in the here and now, with Hippolyta a leopard print-clad Russian bride, the mechanicals styled as Globe ushers, and the lovers a definite London type (leading to the reworked Puck couplet: “Through the forest have I gone/But Hoxton hipster found I none.”) Meanwhile, the fairies’ deconstructed Elizabethan garb, complete with nipple tassels, has a deliberate dissonance. Rice never lets us forget just how bonkers this play is, and that surrendering to storytelling – or to love – means flirting with madness.A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's GlobeOn the whole, Rice and dramaturg Tanika Gupta’s revisions are smartly judged. Changing Helena’s sex seems counterintuitive given Rice’s promise of gender parity, but proves surprisingly effective. Helenus’s (Ankur Bahl) plaintive wish that he could be more like Hermia becomes a deeper statement, and Demetrius’s (Ncuti Gatwa, pictured above with Bahl) violent rejection suggests internalised homophobia, or at least wrestling with sexual identity. Lines take on a double meaning (“I shall do thee mischief in the wood!” Demetrius threatens/promises), but when he and Lysander (Edmund Derrington) suddenly become suitors, thanks to Puck’s meddling, Helenus is insulted at what he deems mockery of a delicate situation, and hurt that best friend Hermia would betray him by joining in.

But it’s also apparent that these are giddy teens, high on hormones. When Lysander mentions marriage, Anjana Vasan’s Hermia does an endearing jig and leaps onto a table to embrace him; in the forest, she nearly succumbs to his boyband charms – guitar serenade in leather jacket and pants – before scurrying into a tent to preserve her maidenhood. Carnality rules, with Snout (Alex Tregear) eyeing up Bottom (Ewan Wardop), Puck (Katy Owen) interfering with groundlings, and Zubin Varla’s darkly sensual Oberon surrendering to lust when casting enchantments upon sleeping victims. (Varla pictured below with Meow Meow.)

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's GlobeWhile comical, his revenge upon Titania is a clear violation of sexual agency. As beguilingly played by performance artist Meow Meow, the fairy queen is poised, sinuous and coolly commanding, making a memorable entrance from the heavens. Post-spell, she’s literally off-balance, hobbling after Bottom on a broken heel and staggering into the crowd as she desperately tries to remove her tights. Wardrop’s Bottom is visibly trepidatious, making this an encounter without real consent on either side. It’s a neat reversal of his position as sole bloke in the female am dram troupe, where he revels in his status as “health and safety officer” and tries to turn Pyramus into a Hollywood action hero.

Their climactic play-within-a-play doesn’t quite top what’s come before, despite cracking use of cereal boxes and a Casio keyboard – one drawback of Rice’s teeming production. Stu Barker’s sizable music contribution nudges it over the three-hour mark, and while some works beautifully – the fairy lullaby becoming sultry burlesque, led by the excellent Nandi Bhebhe – there’s arguably about three numbers too many; both Bowie and Beyoncé references feel tired. The strong Bollywood flavour, inspired by the Indian changeling child (here a charming puppet), strays into empty exoticism, though its genre conventions do match the heightened romantic fantasy.

Vasan and Bahl particularly impress among the lovers, Meow Meow and Varla make a sizzling pair, and Owen’s compelling Puck is a hyperactive 10-year-old in light-up trainers, seeking parental approval from Oberon. Wardrop’s buffoonish Bottom has great support from Lucy Thackeray’s officious Quince, Edith Tankus’s eccentric Snug, and Margaret Ann Bain’s tomboyish Flute, who feels exposed as ultra-feminine Thisbe. Etta Murfitt supplies everything from bhangra to Charleston and costume designer Moritz Junge makes the tribes distinct without going overboard, but Borkur Jonsson’s evocation of forest through giant green tubes and floating orbs, while striking, is a sightline hazard in a stiff breeze.

Not every gag lands (though I’m still chuckling at the roller skating eunuch with a harp), and Rice could do with some quieter moments to let the verse breathe. The emphasis on accessibility also makes the mystical a little too ordinary. But the pointed line “Why is everybody so obsessed with text?” is a clear mission statement, and this vital production is Exhibit A. Matter-of-fact in its diversity, and decisively engaging storytelling for the varied audience that populates the Globe, this is a promising start to a new regime.

@mkmswain

Comments

I have never been more disgusted! This is the Shakespeare's Globe, and while I see the worth of occasional re-workings what Emma Rice is doing is butchering his plays. People go to the Globe to see a Tudor theatre and a Tudor Play, and it is part of this country's heritage. I have taken a number of Shakespeare-phobs to the Globe to see plays over the years and they have all come away loving the atmosphere, acting and Tudor costume and music. All the changes she has made are completely out of character with the setting. The architecture of the theatre is designed to contain the sound, without the need of microphones, the open air roof allows day light so why the need of West End style nights. Shakespeare never had such technology, and it took skill and imagination of writing and stage craft to create atmosphere, the modern addition of lights and sound seems lazy and unimaginative. The amount of work and vision Sam Wanemaker put into building the Globe seems to have been completely ruined. Such radical changes are more in keeping with the National not this iconic Shakespearean theatre house. I cannot understand how someone who clearly doesn't like or appreciate Shakespeare has been hired to direct this wonderful theatre.  In the year of his 400th anniversary  it is particularly disappointing.

 

I am so sad you cannot see the beauty in this performance. I'm sure the more traditional plays you have seen at the Globe were wonderful, but just because this is a more unconventional version of one of Shakespeare's most loved plays, shouldn't detract from the artistry this performance provides. In fact, it very much enhances it. Also, a Tudor experience, in our own modern society, is difficult to achieve, given a theatre event, would have been for an audience then, exciting, humorous, and energised, in itself, without alternative sound and lighting, since Jacobean audiences were not frequently exposed to such technology, as we are. To bring out the same energy and response from a modern day audience, using light, sound and modern references, amongst the beauty of the text, is therefore not 'lazy' or 'unimaginative', but in fact, purposeful, and arguably for some audience members, necessary. In regards to the space, I think the Globe is the most perfect place for this type of production to take place since in spite of the modern twists, you seem so 'disgusted' about, the main aim of theatre at the Globe, is to involve the audience, break the fourth wall and build a relationship between those onstage and us offstage, and this production definitely allows us to do that, in fact demands that we do that. I hope you don't take too much offence at this comment, it's just this is one of the best performances I've ever seen at the Globe.

Well said! Last night was my first time at the Globe Theatre and I was so looking forward to being transported to another time and seeing exactly what you describe. I was horrified. Fine for any other theatre, but NOT The Globe!

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