It’s not what you expect from a Shakespeare play… even one that has been performed in as many ways as A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been tackled.Emma Rice’s debut piece in her first season as Artistic Director for the Globe throws the rulebook right out of the window though with performers wearing head mics, set dressing seemingly hanging from the sky and a distinctly non-reverential approach to William’s words.
By rights I should hate it… but I can’t help falling in love with the sheer silliness of it all! From the moment we’re greeted by our mechanicals (here Globe employees taking a break from programme selling) to Hermia and Helenus (more on that in a moment) bursting into a round of Beyonce’s Single Ladies it’s all bonkers and utterly joyous!
As well as making the mechanicals give a pre-show health and safety brief Rice takes a few liberties with the text, the action is transported to Bankside, Demetrius is labelled a “Hoxton hipster”… oh and Helena is gender swapped to Helenus. I wasn’t sure quite how this would work but all credit to Rice and to Ankur Bahl who plays the role perfectly. He isn’t excessively feminine, and the way he dotes on Ncuti Gatwa’s Demetrius is incredibly sweet. Anjana Vasan and Edmund Derrington fill out the lovelorn foursome with a mix of heady lust and bashful youth that’s very endearing.
The mechanicals, led by Lucy Thackeray’s Quince and Ewan Wardrop’s would-be-boy-scout Bottom wring the requisite laughs out of early scenes before inducing the kind of belly laughs that leave tears rolling down the face in the funniest take on Pyramus & Thisbe I’ve yet seen!
As always seems to be the case though, a good Dream is builtaround excellent casting of the Faeries. Katy Owen embodies the anarchy of the production, constently snuggling up to audience members, taking breaks to sniff their hair and a constant threat due to her unerring water-pistol marksmanship! Zubin Varla is the most sinister Oberon I’ve seen on a stage, every line delivered like a threat wrapped in silk, while Meow Meow’s giggling, girly Titania is a heady mix of sexiness and giggling, girly ditzy-ness that is a joy to behold.
This is a wonderful, silly, treat of a production and the perfect intro to Shakespeare and to this glorious, unique space!