Writer: William Shakespeare
Dramaturg and Lyricist: Tanika Gupta
Director: Emma Rice
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
There are two massive things to review here with the new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Globe. The first is the play itself, and the second is the statement of intent from new Artistic Director Emma Rice. With lighting rigs, sound systems and some aggressive dramatic choices the “Wonder Season” at The Globe has started with a boom. The impact will chatter teeth of the Shakespeare purists, but may well increase the appeal of the venue beyond its existing strong following.
But, we could make some legitimate criticism of the changes. They pay little attention to the key personality of The Globe as a holy spot where Shakespeare can be experienced as it was intended. It’s a bold start, but judgement should be withheld until we see what the rest of the season brings. Then we can decide if Rice’s influence has reduced the Wooden O to just another good London theatre.
To Dream, then. As a Globe production of Shakespeare, it’s not canon. Yet, here and anywhere else it does deserve to be a smashing success. Lights, action, but no camera here as we get a Bollywood flavoured but London-based take on love and marriage. Instead of seeking a target in “weeds of Athens”, Puck goes in hunt of a fellow in “Hoxton hipster garb”. Instead of Helena, we have Helenus. He’s a young man (Ankur Bahn) in the unsteady position of being in love with Demetrius, who’s having trouble with his own sexual identity (deftly explored through the zeal by which he rejects Helenus and pursues Hermia). The swaggering sexuality of Zubin Varla’s Oberon is a little incongruous with the flirty, winking burlesque of Meow Meow’s Titania, though a warm, heavy-lidded sexuality covers the whole production so it gets a pass. Injecting a spike of adrenaline into this is the giddy teenage lust of the two other couples which feels lifted straight from a back-of-the-night-bus chat after a night out.
The two stand-out parts of Puck and Bottom (Katy Owen and Ewan Wardrop) here are solid. An emotional, hyperactive and sparky Puck leaps through the groundlings, sexualises almost everything possible and turns on a pinhead to show the vulnerable side of all that verve – potentially a proxy reference for the whole play itself. Bottom is now one of The Globe’s ushers, a health and safety officer puffed up with his own importance. As Bottom, he’s a boor (so London, so very London) and as the Ass he’s like a newly handsome man trying out his allure for the first time. As Pyramus, he contributes to a glorious version of Dream’s play within a play.
These energetic injections provide a boost we need though. Coming in at three hours, the already long play is filled with Stu Barker’s excellent music and Sheema Mukherjee’s electric (and electrified) Sitar playing. On their own, they’re super pieces of song and dance, with the Fairy Lullaby and the meeting of Puck and Titania’s first fairy in the clearing being a real highlight from a magnetic Nandi Bhebhe. Together with the rest of the additions and edits they make too much of a good thing. Between the set extending over the groundlings’ pit and causing an enervating view block (though it is abeautiful design from Börkur Jónsson) and the sheer volume of the amplified voices, music, flashing lights, colours and the dozens of cultural and artistic references it gets quite oppressive.
It deserves a successful run and legacy. It will infuriate the purist. But can we forget it’s Shakespeare and it’s at The Globe? If so, it’s just a great play that, with some edits, could be landmark. It’s not “Shakespeare” then, but a super night out.
Runs until 11 September 2016 | Image: Steve Turner