Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, Shakespeare's Globe

Michelle Terry gets to grips with the mischievous Puck in this new production of the Shakespeare classic

By: May. 23, 2023
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Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, Shakespeare's Globe

Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, Shakespeare's Globe “To say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays.” It appears that the Globe has a fondness for dreaming, as Shakespeare’s most performed play is back in the outdoor space for the third time in Michelle Terry’s tenure as Artistic Director.

This time it is directed by Elle While, and features a majority female cast – the company includes Globe Associate Artists Jack Laskey and Tanika Yearwood, as well as Terry herself.

Though it’s understandable that the Globe might want to err on the side of caution as far as programming is concerned – choosing the more popular plays to guarantee ticket sales as it continues to recover from the effects of the pandemic – I’d argue that they are in the unique position of being able to stage nearly any of Shakespeare’s works and still draw in the crowds, due to historic status and tourist value. Given that there are over 30 plays to choose from, the usual suspects shouldn’t be cropping up again and again – at least not in the same performance space.

Elle While’s production does at least experiment with the very familiar play, such as adding their own brief prologue and also using some different multi-roling options.

The prologue focuses on the changeling boy who is adopted by Titania (and coveted by Oberon); it was inspired by the overwhelmingly female company, and the fact that babies and young children were frequent visitors to the rehearsal room. It’s certainly something to think about, as the conflict over this orphan is what tears Oberon and Titania apart, leading them to interfere with the other characters in the play, and yet… for me, it doesn’t really seep into the heart of the play and fully justify its presence.

It is a shame that the usual Theseus/Oberon and Hippolyta/Titania casting decision wasn’t taken, as it would have been wonderful to see Anne Odeke bring her energy and verve to both roles, and see how she contrasted the two. The Fairy King and Queen’s encounter in act 2 scene 1 confirms that they are intimately acquainted with Hippolyta and Theseus, respectively, so why not go the whole hog and cast separate actors in both male roles? It could simply have been a logistical choice rather than a creative one, of course, but then that doesn’t really fit with the ethos of the production.

Choosing to present a jolly old Theseus and a jocular, occasionally bumbling, Hippolyta is a little jarring in the current context: most recent productions have interpreted the text to show him as tyrant and her as captive, with them generally falling into some kind of accord by the end of the play. It is interesting to see this relationship as the light relief, as those of the young lovers tread into the darker realms and have a slightly more uneasy resolution.

Fascinatingly, Bottom (Mariah Gale hilariously drawing on Hyacinth Bucket in her characterisation) has the most compelling arc in this production: she begins as a pompous ass, all but becomes an actual ass, and then shows some signs of growth towards the end as she thinks on what might have been with Titania.

What is most impressive, for me, is the costume design; takis has created a visually arresting parade of outfits that straddle typical Elizabethan fare and high fashion. Much of the colour palette is suggestive of the forest, with browns and greens on show, but the group of lovers particularly stand out in their bold blues, oranges, and pinks – it sets them apart from the natural world that they intrude upon in their quarrel. It’s just a shame that they aren’t given time to undo the damage done by the roughness of the forest when they return to ‘civilisation’ at the end, instead heading to the festivities in a slightly bedraggled state.

Puck is perhaps the most well-known character in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and flits between the different storylines, making mischief along the way; this may have been what enticed Michelle Terry to the role, however it’s not her most memorable performance to date. It’s not that she’s not suited for comedy, as she has proven her comic credentials in the past, but it often feels like she is trying too hard to be wacky and it doesn’t always land.

Francesca Mills was an inspired piece of casting in the role of Hermia, as she is not only exceptionally funny, but it also means that Demetrius and Lysander’s insults about her height have a real sting; Mills’ Hermia is tough and ready to take on the world, but you can tell she is truly hurt by those comments. Opposite her, Vinnie Heaven’s comically try-hard, wannabe-macho Demetrius also provides some laughs – though, as ever, it makes you wonder what Helena sees in him.

As far as I’m concerned, however, it’s Mariah Gale who is the star of the show as “prolouge”-inventing Nicola Bottom. She manages to remain likeable in spite of Bottom’s self-importance, which means we are with her all the way when her dreamy evening is ripped away from her. Gale’s physicality and commitment to Bottom’s donkey state is incredible, her hiccups turning to brays and her limbs attempting a gallop; it’s the comic highlight of the show by far.

Admittedly not a vintage production of this particular play, there are still plenty of moments to enjoy and I applaud the Globe’s creative teams for continuing to be inventive; there are many who would prefer this theatre to only put on ‘traditional’ productions, but I, for one, am wholeheartedly against that. Sometimes experiments work, sometimes they don’t – but it’s always worth a try.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at Shakespeare’s Globe until 12 August

Photo credit: Helen Murray


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