Review - A Midsummer Night's Dream

Oberon

Tony Cross refrains from making Bottom jokes and watches a new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Globe Theatre...

This is a lusty, laugh-filled joyfully anarchic production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.'

They play fast and loose with casting and text, which leads to them to popping in jokes about hipsters and Hoxton or replacing Helena with Helenus but none of those decisions by director Emma Rice seem to feel wrong.

I sometimes feel with souped up modern versions of Shakespeare's plays that the directors don't trust Shakespeare - or their actors - enough. They want to make whatever point about the play they want to make with a sledgehammer. Initially I'll admit that I thought I was going to hate this production but I soon got into the swing of it.

It takes advantage of being in the Globe to make the audience as much part of the proceedings as the cast. Puck (a hyperactively brilliant Katy Owen) in particularly does this magnificently. I love watching Shakespeare at The Globe. It's always feels half like a sporting event with the crowd taking a key role in the atmosphere and action. Actors weave in and out of the Groundlings and seem to get an additional buzz - which might be fear - from their ability to interact more directly with the audience.

This Emma Rice's first production since she took over as Artistic Director of The Globe and part of their Age of Wonder season. In her introduction in the programme Rice says it is her favourite Shakespeare play and I think it shows. She squeezes every laugh possible out of it to the point at which I worried that some of the potential creepiness in the play might be lost.

You could make a dark and disturbing version of A Midsummer Night's Dream starting with Oberon's nasty plans for his wife and through to the fact that Helenus and Demitrus are artificially welded together through the use of drugs and magic. But it would probably be terrible.

The performances are damn good, from Zubin Varla's Theseus/Oberon and Meow Meow's Hippolyta/Titania through to the rude mechanicals and Fairies. But I'd highlight - purely personally - Anjana Vasan's Hermia who is the very definition of small but fierce, Katy Owen's Puck and Ankur Behl's Helenus.

Oh and I should add that Emma Rice's direction of the scenes when the various lovers chase each other through the woods whilst Puck tries to stop them all meeting in order to prevent a bloodbath is brilliantly done.

If you want 'traditional' productions of Shakespeare then this won't be your cup of tea. There's too much tweaking but for my money it works. It's so much fun and there's a certain bawdiness to it too. There's a lust for life and love in the play that Rice's direction brings to the fore. Or maybe that's just me and my dirty mind.

The Rude Mechanicals are brilliant and their final performance of their play is a piece of joy. It should, in theory, be hard not to make this funny but I'm sure there have been productions that have achieved this, although there's an argument to be had about how snobbishly nasty you want the noble audience to be in response to the catastrophe unfolding before them.

Ewan Wardrup's Bottom is rather fine and you get to see a lot of his white underpants throughout so I could here make a terrible joke about Bottom's bottom but I have neither the heart nor wit to inflict such a joke on you. Be thankful for small mercies. However, all the rude mechanicals are excellent. Especially as Rice's tweaks give them a little extra character.

There's a theory that 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' is an early example of 'it was only a dream.' The question then being whose dream? The fact that the same actors play Hippolyta/Titania and Theseus/Oberon has the feel of The Wizard of Oz about it. Perhaps Bottom, I is having a pre-performance anxiety dream? Perhaps the dream is ours? And that Puck's last words, "If we shadows have offended,/Think but this, and all is mended:/That you have but slumbered here..." are passing literal. Consider this a dream. Perhaps not. I am a bear of very little brain and these thoughts do cause me headaches.

So congratulations to The Globe once again for an excellent production. It's fun in a way that bad experiences at school make you think Shakespeare will never be. It's a joyful take on the play that I heartily recommend. If I awarded stars, I'd give it five.

Image - Globe Theatre

The play is on until 11th September and tickets are available from the theatre website.