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A Midsummer Night’s Dream –  BBC Culture in Quarantine, iPlayer

Reviewer: Alice Hiley

Director: Emma Rice

Director Emma Rice is known for the transgressive, surprising and outrageously colourful. As soon as the bright red neon “Rock the Ground” sign lights up above her adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, you know this is a show that shakes up tradition. It’s a statement of intent as well as permission for the audience to be as loud and raucous as they like.

Described as a “Bollywood-infused” interpretation, Emma Rice’s Dream draws on the exoticism of foreign cultures that clearly fascinated Shakespeare; it’s a young Indian changeling who causes the rift between Oberon and Titania. Up above the stage sits a sitar player whose hauntingly beautiful music accompanies the whole show.

In Börkur Jónsson’s lavish set, tables are placed in the stalls, ready for Theseus’ wedding. In the first scene the actors emerge out from under the tablecloths, skipping and leaping from the tables to the stage, setting the precedent for audience interaction that continues until the final curtain.

It’s a thoroughly modern take on Shakespeare; superb costumes by Moritz Junge places us firmly in the present day with a mix of tuxes, tracksuits and leather jackets. The “love tokens” passed between Hermia and Lysander are polaroids, not letters, and the highly-strung Helenus arrives at a fight equipped with a first aid kit, latex gloves and hand sanitiser. Parts of the text are changed to fit this modern setting; Puck is sent to hunt down “Hoxton Hipsters”, not lost Athenians. Ankur Bahl’s gender swapped “Helenus”, equal parts empathetic, camp and dashing, is a stroke of genius.

By contrast, we’re reminded that the fairies have been around since the dawn of time: instead of the typical floaty dresses and flower crowns they wear ripped Victorian ruffles. Their tribal dances and chants are hypnotic and a little terrifying, their entrances extravagant, slipping down lengths of satin or somersaulting like trapeze artists. Melissa Madden Gray (stage name Meow Meow) brings a sprinkle of cabaret magic to her role as Queen of the Fairies.

The subplot of the amateur acting troupe is incorporated brilliantly; “Mrs Quince” directs a haphazard group of disorganised theatre staff, much like a finger-wagging teacher despairing over her rabble of a class. At the start of the play she sets out the house rules (voluminous hairstyles will be flattened with corporation hairwax; no smoking or spreading syphilis) and introduces Nick Bottom as The Globe’s Health and Safety Officer. You can’t help but laugh as the troupe, in their “Globe Staff” t-shirts and lanyards, descend into chaos.

Katy Owens is magnificent as a devilish, gymnastic Puck whose sole aim is causing mischief. She provides the show’s best physical comedy, stealing and sipping an audience member’s Starbucks, constantly firing at people with her water pistol.

Though an undeniable hoot, the interpretation also highlights the creepiness of the love potion plot, which is poured out in shot glasses to emphasise the parallel with modern-day drink spiking; there are lots of groping hands and licking tongues on sleeping bodies which sets a darker undertone.

This was The Globe’s first-ever live stream, and it certainly entered the digital world with a bang. But though it’s  unarguably entertaining, the film can’t compete with the excitement of being in the audience as a “groundling”; looking up to see Puck soar above your head, or getting a nudge as Titania asks you to fasten her shoe buckle. Similar to the feeling of watching Glastonbury on the TV, you’re impressed by the magnitude but left a little envious of those who got to experience the real thing.

Available to stream here until August 2020

The Reviews Hub Score

Chaotic, riotous, enchanting

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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