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Looking Back At Emma Rice's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

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Looking Back At Emma Rice's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
Meow Meow and Nandi Bhebhe

It's hard to believe that it's been four years since Emma Rice made her debut at Shakespeare's Globe, beginning her brief tenure as artistic director with the Wonders season and her own production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. As a Shakespeare fan (I was one of those rare beings: someone who actually enjoyed studying his plays at school), I'd been meaning to go to the Globe for some time but had never quite got round to it - and I'd never seen anything by Emma Rice before. How times change.

Though Twelfth Night is my favourite of the Bard's works (and Rice's production is the best I've yet seen), this Dream will always hold a special place in my heart. Not only did it introduce me to the Globe - which ended up basically becoming a second home to me the following year - but also it opened my eyes and completely changed the way I look at theatre. Rice had a clear vision and a story to tell; unafraid of tinkering with the text, adding music, and putting her own stamp on the space - this production was a definite statement of intent.

Watching it again now (it has been added to the BBC's Culture in Quarantine series on iPlayer) brings back so many memories of that summer, for one thing, but also makes you realise how timeless this production is. For me, the biggest impact came courtesy of the switch from Helena to Helenus, played with a combination of sass and genuine vulnerability by Ankur Bahl; this setup made the lovers' story feel more relevant, and became the emotional heart of the play.

There wasn't a weak link in the entire cast, many of whom swiftly became firm favourites for me. As well as the brilliant Nandi Bhebhe and hilarious Ewan Wardrop, I have to single out the inimitable Katy Owen here - impish and inquisitive as Puck in Dream, there's always a playfulness in her performances that makes it difficult to tear your eyes away from her. She embodies the whole ethos of Emma Rice's theatremaking.

Looking Back At Emma Rice's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
Ncuti Gatwa and Ankur Bahl

The midnight matinée show had such a festival atmosphere and feeling of togetherness that I imagine it will always feature in my favourite ever performances (along with those from the following season); the magic from the play and production combined to make something greater than the sum of its parts that night. A night like that is an emotional experience like no other.

Though I do still thoroughly enjoy the Globe's output, I do miss the lights and sound that accompanied Emma Rice's tenure - particularly the latter, as noise pollution in London has increased dramatically since Elizabethan times, helping to occasionally drown out the very words certain factions of the extended Globe audience were outraged had been cut or amended under Rice's stewardship.

What was heartening, amidst all the drama that surrounded her departure, was that Rice approached the handing over of the baton to Michelle Terry with love, and encouraged audiences to do the same. It's clear that she retains a fondness for the place and looks back on her time there with joy, remarking on the "generosity of the space" and how "democratic" it is as a theatre.

Listening to her talk with Marc Antolin on Wise Children's new online radio made it apparent just how much fun she had working with actors and creatives to develop productions for both The Globe Theatre and Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, be they Shakespeare plays or brand new shows.

If you look to her most recent shows with Wise Children, it's obvious that the positive effects of her time at the Globe haven't left her; in both Wise Children and Malory Towers you can see that she hasn't managed to completely shake off Shakespeare just yet - particularly the former, in which the Bard and Shakespearean actors feature heavily.

Now, however, is the perfect time to escape back into Rice's Dream - a reminder of happier times, with a bit of magic thrown in for good measure.

A Midsummer Night's Dream is now available to watch on BBC iPlayer. Tea & Biscuits with Emma Rice broadcasts on Wise Children Radio every Tuesday and Thursday.

Picture credit: Steve Tanner


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From This Author Debbie Gilpin