Anyone that knows me is aware that not only do I love a bit of Shakespeare but there is one of the Bard’s plays I really don’t get on with. I’ve seen it a few times and for some reason, it’s always frustrated me. The play is A Midsummer Night’s Dream and after the last time, I said I would never review it again. However, when I was offered a chance to see the play at The Globe, I decided to give it one more go, so along the South Bank I went.
Because life isn’t difficult enough A Midsummer Night’s Dream comprises various separate stories that intersect over the course of one magical night. To start, we have the Duke of Athens Theseus (Jack Laskey) and Amazon Queen Hippolyta (Anne Odeke) who are due to be married. Theseus is frustrated it has not happened yet, but Hippolyta is relaxed and looking forward to the revelries four days hence. Enter Egeus (Sarah Finigan) who has demanded that his daughter Hermia (Francesca Mills) marry Demetrius (Vinnie Heaven) but is being defied as Hermia is in love with Lysander (Sam Crerar). Theseus gives Hermia an ultimatum, obey her father, face death, or enter a nunnery. Unhappy with all these choices, Hermia and Lysander decide to run away, something she tells her best friend Helena (Isobel Thom) who is in love, albeit unrequitedly, with Demetrius. Hope you’re keeping up.
Meanwhile ‘The Mechanicals’, Peter Quince (Rebecca Root) and fellow players Nick Bottom (Mariah Gale), Francis Flute (Molly Logan), Robin Starveling (Marianne Oldham), Tom Snout (Tanika Yearwood) and Snug (Sarah Finigan) are planning a play “The Most Lamentable Comedy And Most Cruel Death Of Pyramus And Thisbe” for the Duke and Queen’s nuptial celebrations. Bottom is a loud bullying person who thinks the play could be vastly improved if they were to play all the roles, including the pivotal wall. In order to keep the play secret until its performance, the team goes into the forest to rehearse.
In the same forest, the king and queen of the fairies Oberon (Jack Laskey) and Titania (Marianne Oldham) have arrived for the wedding. The two of them are estranged at the moment as Titania refuses to obey Oberon and hand over her Indian changeling child to him to use as a henchman. Oberon is furious with this disobedience and, together with his “shrewd and knavish sprite” Robin “Puck” Goodfellow (Michelle Terry), hatch a plan to punish Titania and bring her to heel once more.
Love, both returned and unrequited along with many other emotions are running wild in the forest this Midsummer Night and the chances of all problems being resolved before dawn seem unlikely. But when magic is involved, you never know what might happen and maybe, just maybe, everyone will get the happily ever after their heart’s desire.
I think my main issue with Midsummer Night’s Dream is the plot. There’s an awful lot going on and most of it is not very nice. The language is pure Shakespeare but, as the Globe website says the play contains language of violence, ableism, misogyny, and racism. In fact, virtually all of the male characters are highly dislikeable with few redeeming features. I’ve also always felt the play within the play at the Duke’s wedding is really superfluous and could easily be removed to reduce the running time – around two and half hours including interval – to something just over two.
So, that’s my problem with the actual play. What of this production? Well, it turns out I was right. If I was ever going to appreciate and enjoy Midsummer Night’s Dream it would beat the Globe. There is something so special about the venue that really elevates any show. This production, under the direction of Elle While is really excellent. Every element of the comedy of the play is teased out of the text and when added to the atmosphere of the location, this performance proved to be a winner with this reviewer.
With the Globe, the limitations of scenery means there is a reliance on not only the performances but also the costumes to tell the story, and Costume Supervisor Sabia Smith
has really pulled out the stops to provide a wonderful assortment of costumes that easily identify the Athenians, Mechanics and Fairies, and feels so appropriate for each one. In fact I didn’t realise that certain characters – Oberon and Theseus for example – were played by the same person until I had a read through the programme during the interval. Truly wonderful use of costume to bring a character alive. And speaking of characters, Michelle Terry’s portrayal of Puck made me think they should forget being the Globe’s Artistic Director and move to treading the boards more often. What an amazing performance. With a wonderful combination of world-weariness, enthusiasm and let’s be honest playing with the groundlings, Puck stole the stage whenever they appeared. They looked wonderful and performed brilliantly at the head of a truly fantastic cast. The use of live music performed by a five-piece band under the leadership of Musical Director Zac Gvi, really added to the atmosphere and made for an altogether very enjoyable evening.
Ok, so the big question has to be asked. Did I enjoy this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream? You bet I did. Given its lack of any form of political correctness and very dodgy ending, I may never fully like the text but, for the first time, and to my complete surprise, I was genuinely invested in every aspect of the show. Laughing, clapping, and cheering along with everyone else by the end. At last, I appreciated the relevance of “The Most Lamentable Comedy And Most Cruel Death Of Pyramus And Thisbe” and thoroughly enjoyed its inclusion in the overall story. I may never love the story but last night I was converted to living and loving the Dream. A truly wonderful theatrical experience.
Reviewby Terry Eastham
On Midsummer’s eve, four rebellious young lovers, a band of ambitious artisan players, and a feuding Fairy King and Queen all cross paths in a riotously enchanted forest. When the shapeshifting, mischief-making Puck, the Fairy King’s servant, is ordered to cast spells on everyone, what could possibly go wrong?
All hell breaks loose as nature, and human nature, are turned upside down and inside out; the forest’s new inhabitants are in for a wild and unsettling night of love, jealousy and utter confusion… but once the nightmare is over, will life be a dream again by morning?
A Midsummer Night’s Dream cast & creatives
Sam Crerar – LYSANDER
Sarah Finigan – EGEUS / SNUG
Mariah Gale – BOTTOM
Vinnie Heaven – DEMETRIUS
Jack Laskey – OBERON/THESEUS
Molly Logan – FLUTE / FAIRY
Francesca Mills – HERMIA
Anne Odeke – HIPPOLYTA
Marianne Oldham – TITANIA
Rebecca Root – QUINCE
Lizzie Schenk – FAIRY
Michelle Terry – PUCK
Isobel Thom – HELENA
Tanika Yearwood – SNOUT / MUSTARDSEED
Percussion – Zands Duggan – Saxophone/Clarinet – Sophie Creaner
Musical Director/Saxophone/Clarinet – Zac Gvi
Trumpet/Hang Drum – Adrian Woodward
Tuba – Hanna Mbuya
Associate Director – Indiana Lown-Collins
Casting Director – Becky Paris
Composer – James Maloney
Costume Design – takis
Costume Supervisor – Sabia Smith
Director – Elle While
Fight & Intimacy Directors – RC Annie Ltd.
Globe Associate – Movement – Glynn MacDonald
Magic Consultant – John Bulleid
Movement Director – Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster
Set Design – Wills (Paul Williams)
Voice and Text Coach – Tess Dignan
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Globe Theatre, London
27 Apr 2023 – 12 Aug 2023