Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Theatre review: A Midsummer Night's Dream (Shakespeare's Globe)

Never let it be said that Dominic Dromgoole doesn't like the jig that ends every performance at Shakespeare's Globe. For his new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream he's not just reserved it for the end but given us one to open the show with as well - in this case it's a dance representation of the battle between Athenians and Amazons that sees Theseus take Hippolyta as his queen. And since we have Michelle Terry as Hippolyta you can be assured the conflict hasn't quite ended there - she may have accepted him but right from the start Terry makes it clear she won't be sitting back and letting him make all the decisions. This prickly brand of affection between her and John Light's Theseus is one the two actors carry over to their other roles as the Fairy King and Queen of the forest, Oberon and Titania - here a very earthy, animalistic pair of deities, the animal heads of the fairies not making it that much of a stretch to see Titania fall for Bottom when he gets one of his own.

The royal wedding in the city leads to a number of comic confusions in the forest: Two pairs of young lovers have arrived there to escape parental disapproval, and a group of workmen go out there to rehearse a play they hope to perform in front of the royal couple. Oberon and his servant Puck decide to interfere with both sets of mortals, and the results should be - and fortunately are - very funny.

Dromgoole kind of phoned in his Henry V last year which was more than a little unfortunate coming from the artistic director of the venue, but he's got his mojo back here (although funnily enough audience interaction is still at a minimum, by Globe standards.) The production is solid enough to put across all the story points and hit all the right comic beats, but is also full of interesting little touches and fresh takes on characters. Like Matthew Tennyson's toddler-like Puck, although I'm not sure where that fits in with his sometimes homoerotic relationship with Oberon. Light's Fairy King is an incredibly physical presence, climbing the pillars and picking up cast members, but his vocal performance unfortunately doesn't match his physical one, with many a long speech descending into an incomprehensible burble.

When the casting was announced I was excited to hear news of Pearce Quigley's Bottom, and he doesn't disappoint. Another performance that goes against the stereotype, he's a low-key, almost hangdog Bottom, stealing the spotlight from the other (clog-dancing - more jigging opportunities) Rude Mechanicals slyly rather than bombastically, saving his "big" performance style for the final show in front of Theseus and Hippolyta. Unfortunately, the way this climax was staged meant that from where I was sitting the entirety of the Pyramus and Thisbe (or Pyramus and Thingy) scene was blocked by one of the onstage pillars. No amount of leaning right or left would let me in on the joke but by the audience's reaction it must have been a triumph. A shame as well because Dromgoole has wisely opted to leave the interval until quite late (after Puck has restored the young lovers and "Jack shall have Jill") so much of the second half can be taken up with the big comic setpiece.

With all the fairies and asses' heads going around people can underestimate how funny the plot with the four lovers can be, and although not the best I've seen this stands up to the rest of the production's quality. It's funny how sometimes the men stand out and sometimes the women; here, Sarah MacRae's Helena and Olivia Ross's Hermia are decent, but the rivalry between the men for Helena's love gets the best laughs. Joshua Silver's Demetrius is good but the standout is Luke Thompson's jittery, over-excitable Lysander. The two also wrestle topless quite a lot, so that's a thing. It's generally quite a male torso-exposing production. On chilly nights like tonight they must have nipples that could cut glass.

Though spoiled for me a bit by a final half-hour where I couldn't quite join in with the laughs, and Dromgoole indulging his love for dance breaks one time too many, for the most part this was a great evening, a Dream with a bit of a dark side but nothing to have nightmares about.

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare is booking in repertory until the 12th of October at Shakespeare's Globe.

Running time: 2 hours 55 minutes including interval.

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