Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Sean Holmes
‘Love is in the air. Everywhere I look around’. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre gleefully opens its doors again to a much-needed celebration of community, colour, music, and spectacle. This inaugural A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Sean Holmes, is a revival of his earlier piñata-themed, music-fuelled 2019 production, but this time with the volume turned up full-blast, and reworked with some innovative changes to fit temporary rules of social distancing.
The world of this play celebrates London– one where the Notting Hill Festival gate-crashes the Palladium pantomime before heading over to Soho for a much-needed street party. Costumes are bold, big, and sometimes surreal. The Hackney Colliery Band musicians dressed as Toy Soldiers (à-la Nutcracker) entertain the crowd with pop love songs. The Lovers evoke sad Pierrot clowns dressed in Black and White. The woods are awash with acid-induced Teletubby sprits. A bright blue-haired Peter Bourke as King Oberon, effortlessly wields his enormous yellow regal dress, perhaps borrowed from Widow Twankey, and struts like a dominant peacock, revealing glimpses of big furry feet. Victoria Elliott’s queen fairy Titana strikes-a-pose Madonna style, with hot pink hair, sliver body suit and glittering knee-high go-go boots. And Wow. She can sing like The Queen of Pop too.
The stage is bare, apart from a pre-set piñata donkey, and coloured paper streamers hanging from the stage roof. The cast must fill a large space without physically interacting with each other or the public. No doubt a challenge when gaps between much-reduced audience members must feel cavernous. However, this where the impressive cast play with skilful staging and subtle nuance. Titania’s love scene with Bottom is transformed into a solo love ballot. The Lovers’ fight in the woods, often a fast-paced shouting affair with physical entanglements, instead unfolds in real time. Actors use the space between them to build tension. Words are weapons of choice. As confusions, fears and angers build, the Lovers’ spiked insults are not funny, but painful. There is a poignant and well-timed pause when Nadi Kemp-Sayfi’s Hermia looks out towards the audience for support as Bryan Dick’s Lysander rejects her with racist slurs. There was an audible gasp from the audience.
The Mechanical’s inept performance of Pyramus and Thisbe is hilarious. Actors are allowed plenty of space to play and they fully commit. Bottom’s death as Pyramus is perfectly hammed up while capturing the pathos, and at one point, a near naked, bare-chested George Fouracres’s Flute appears to have an argument with himself in an Italian accent. And there is still audience participation for some lucky Groundlings (no spoilers here).
The entire cast are superb, but Sophie Russell as Bottom deserves particular applause for her pitch perfect physical and vocal performance. Also, Shona Babayemi’s Helena is striking as a no-nonsense woman who calls it as she sees it. It was refreshing to see this character played with such strength.
This play carries disturbing undertones, and in 2019 these nuances were sometimes missing. Here they successfully reappear. Although not everything makes sense (Titania’s home in a giant recycling bin is still bemusing), fast-forward to today and minor details are inconsequential. Just like the Lovers and Titania, we too have lived a disturbing dream and emerged confused and somewhat changed. The pre-set cardboard box marked ‘Fragile’ perhaps carries an unintended double meaning. This vivid production, full of colour, music, and dance is a joyful antidote. And it reminds us in full technicolour that there is much life to come back to.
Runs until 30 October, 2021