Review: A Mad And Beautiful Dream At The Globe
Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Globe, the very first play in the summer Wonder season — and more importantly, the first play from new artistic director Emma Rice — looks very pretty and magical. Yet there’s also a sense here that a mish mash of so many wonderfully creative ideas has trumped simplicity over story, and not always for the better.
The stories of the various couples, however, ring true and have been updated for the times. So, Helena is Helenus. The casting of the lover (Ankur Bahl) as a boy has made Demetrius’s (Ncuti Gatwa) initial vicious rejection of him something more than just distaste for an ardent pursuer — it suggests a passionate affair that the strict Athenian Court would not countenance for marriage.
There’s a genuinely sweet relationship between teenagers Hermia (a super talented Anjana Vasan) and Lysander (very likeable Sunny Afternoon actor Edmund Derrington) that contrasts with the mature power play of Oberon and Titania. The queen (cabaret star Meow Meow), for whom 'summer still doth tend' on her sexiness, is so confident that she can attempt a seduction that involves hopping about while trying to take off several layers of tights.
But interfering with all this lovely stuff and the wonderful themes of the play — love versus infatuation and Oberon’s dark machinations, or the interplay between chaos and order — are effortful stylistic choices. So, when Katy Owen’s dominant Puck shoves a banana down a man in the audience’s throat and then proceeds to snog him, it seems intrusive not subversive — and actors jump out their lines quite a bit into normal English. This can be really funny when done subtly, but overegging it is a distraction.
Visually, there’s also lot going on. Cutlery-less white dinner tables suggest a wedding party over or about to begin, streamers and massive balloons bobbing up above the Globe’s round 'O' are beautiful and festival-like, and Sitar music (by Stu Barker) strikes an exotic eastern refrain. But these ideas, though each really pretty and interesting in themselves, somehow don’t glue.
There's definitely a lot to enjoy, however. We love the fairies, led by the brilliant Nandi Bhebhe with megawatt stage presence; African and contemporary dance moves and their crazy get-up of Victorian bustles and Elizabethan ruffs make them seem like delightfully naughty spirits of the wood. Then, when Titania and Oberon reunite, they are lifted up on circus trapezes, the contraptions’ clunkiness subtly making their graceful attempts at dancing and turning for one another all the more touching. Less could have been more for this production, but it is definitely full of wonder.
Midsummer Night's Dream is at Shakespeare's Globe, Bankside SE1 9DT, until 11 September. Tickets: £5-£45. To see what else is on for the Globe's Wonder season visit: www.shakespearesglobe.com/wonder. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary press ticket.
Last Updated 07 May 2016