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A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's Globe online review - a seasonal treat | reviews, news & interviews

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's Globe online review - a seasonal treat

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's Globe online review - a seasonal treat

An inventive cast relishes the comic potential of the Elizabethan stage

Michelle Terry as Titania with some of her fairies, wild creatures of the earth and woodsJohn Haynes

What could be better for a lockdown summer night "out" than a virtual visit to Shakespeare's Globe? Simultaneously in a theatre and the open air, we can share the visible enjoyment of hundreds of others, the very opposite of self-isolation and social distancing.

And this Elizabethan-dress production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Dominic Dromgoole in 2013, exploits the unique qualities of the Globe to the full. The cast, led by its present artistic director, Michelle Terry, as Titania/Hippolyta and John Light as Oberon/Theseus with Pearce Quigley as a hilariously bossy, attention-seeking, know-it-all Bottom, delivers the lot: earthy fairy magic, exuberantly raucous comedy and gauche but touching youthful romance. Other notes come through clearly, too: the tensions in a long lasting marriage (that of Oberon and Titania) and between strong men and women of unequal status (Theseus and Hippolyta) and the underlying hints of cruelty at the heart of sophisticated Athenian culture.

The play opens with a vigorous dance-battle making clear Hippolyta's status as an Amazon, a fierce leader of women roughly captured in war by Theseus. Terry brings intelligence and sensitivity to a role often glossed over. This Hippolyta is no pushover: she may have few lines, but her presence is powerful as she makes instant connection with Hermia when the latter is threatened with death or the convent if she doesn't marry her father's choice, Demetrius. As the play proceeds, Hippolyta's imperious manner gradually turns to teasing: Theseus will never be able to take her for granted, but a happy marriage is not out of the question.

The fairy world ruled by Oberon and Titania is a place of animal heads and mischief, not a frou-frou in sight. These creatures, expressions of the earth and trees, are more closely allied to Elizabethan witches than Tinkerbell – and all the better for that. The quarrel between the king and queen – over a motherless Indian boy she has taken in, whom he covets as a servant – has caused an upset in nature, disturbing the very elements. But this is a period of turbulence in a long and passionate marriage and John Light's gymnastic Oberon seems ultimately, despite the cruel trick of making her fall – briefly – for a beast, devoted to his queen. He even exhibits an unexpected softer streak, looking shocked at Helena's self-abnegation to Demetrius when she pursues him into the woods, an expedition which will change the lives of all the mortals who enter there. Terry's Titania is queenly and then girlishly besotted by the ass-headed Bottom, always with a comedic twinkle in her eye.

The lovers are enjoyably energetic, ever more muddied and dishevelled as they tumble together and insult each other in a literally no-holds-barred love battle. Hermia (Olivia Ross) and Helena (Sarah MacRae) express genuine pain and confusion, while the young men, Luke Thompson as Lysander and Joshua Silver as Demetrius, are suitably schoolboyish. This was an early outing for Thompson before other successes at the Globe, the Almeida and on the big screen in Dunkirk.Pearce Quigley as Bottom with the other MechanicalsIt is a stroke of genius to make the Mechanicals (pictured above, with Pearce Quigley centre, by Pete Jones) clog dancers. The clatter of their rhythmic arrival breaks into the overwrought goings-on of the lovers, a sound both of the real workaday world and of true artistry. This little group of Athenian workmen planning to present an entertainment for the Duke's wedding (and willing to risk hanging if it goes wrong) takes pleasure in executing perfectly a dance pattern they have taken time to learn. Led by a comically frantic, anxiously responsible Peter Quince (Fergal McElherron), their attempt at presenting the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe is undertaken with sincerity despite the actors' lack of polish. Even so, Christopher Logan's gawky Flute plays Thisbe with touching – if accident-prone – commitment. And no opportunity is lost to pile on the comic business, with Edward Peel as Snug even employing his joiner's skills to mend the rickety fit-up stage in mid-performance.

The Globe's openness to its audience, the blending of one scene into another, the playfulness of acting, of putting on different personalities (central to the play's theme of metamorphosis) translate surprisingly well to the small screen. Even Pearce Quigley's naughty unscripted interpolations and shameless flirting with the audience come through intact. And we can still enjoy the extra insights provided by the Globe environment, especially in the preparation of Pyramus and Thisbe during which the "cast" must imagine a forest brake to be their tiring house. What they are looking at is the actual tiring house (at the back of the stage) which we have already accepted as imaginary forest.

Claire van Kampen's music, played on Renaissance instruments by musicians in the gallery above the stage, ranges from mysterious to elegant, erotic to celebratory, providing a perfect match for changing moods.

The real-life Globe experience is both epic and intimate and some of that is captured here. It is an added bonus that close-ups provide further unexpected detail. After all, no-one can see everything in an Elizabethan-style theatre – theories have it that audiences went mainly to hear rather than see a play – so it is fun to be extra camera-close to the action.


It is a stroke of genius to make the Mechanicals clog dancers


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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