Tuesday, 16 June 2020

THEATRE REVIEW: A Midsummer Night's Dream - Shakespeare's Globe, London.

'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' - the most magical of Shakespeare’s plays - is brought to life once more in the heart of all Shakespearean productions, The Globe Theatre. There’s something about the setting of The Globe that adds extra authenticity and another level of immersive drama to the production (and the sight of an audience packed closely into the standing stalls of the theatre does strike up a pang of longing, if not anxiety!).

Opening with a thrilling, choreographed prologue to the show, giving us an insight into the violent foundations of Theseus and Hippolyta’s marriage, mirrored in the introduction of Titania and Oberon in the fairy kingdom, the production then swoops into action with the quarrelling lovers attending Theseus’ palace. John Silver (Demetrius), Sarah MacRae (Helena), Oliva Ross (Hermia) and Luke Thompson (Lysander) make fantastic work of portraying the ever-changing, ever-swapping feelings and dynamics between the four lovers. As the charade between the group unfolds, their decadent garments disappear, giving way to mud-splattered torsos and torn, filthy scraps of underwear. It’s a clever tactic of designer, Jonathan Fensom, showing the descent into chaos as they enter the fairy kingdom and are over powered by their natural (and perhaps un-natural) interventions. The comedy within the drama is drawn out well, with plenty of scathing asides and unseemly tussles as they squabble over each other. Thompson and Silver make particularly good enemies as the Byronic Lysander and more straight-laced Demetrius.

There’s plenty more comedy in the form of the Mechanicals, a bickering troupe of actors who venture into the forest to rehearse their play. Pearce Quigley leads the way as pompous, over-confident leading man, Bottom, and Quigley adds a posturing feyness to the role, with shades of a certain character anyone who has ever stepped into an am-dram rehearsal room will be familiar with. Fergal McElherron is also brilliant as the bouncy, passionate but fraught director, Quince. From their first introduction, there’s plenty of laughs from this bunch of luvvies.

As the Mechanicals and the lovers are drawn into the forest they are swept up in the dangerous quarrel between Titania and Oberon, King and Queen of the Fairies. The twisted darkness of the fairy world is proven from the beginning, as a crooning fairy is viciously torn apart by a hissing gaggle of fellow fairies, screaming chillingly as she disappears beneath the stage. Draped with animal skins, feathers, twigs, and splashes of mud across exposed skin, the difference between this more mystical, unnatural environment is bold. Michelle Terry and John Light are electric as both unhappy couples Titania and Oberon, and Hippolyta and Theseus. The former pairing argue with a vicious, fiery anger, whilst the latter’s distain for each other is shown in a more subtle, colder way.

Matthew Tennyson gives a stand-out performance as Oberon’s right-hand man and, perhaps, occasional lover, Puck. His baggy trousers and boots, feathers drooping from his hair, a painted waistcoat across his bare chest, give him a playful satyr-like appearance, which adds to Tennyson’s spirited and mischievous performance. Puck often relates his work to Oberon in the same way a child would show off a painting to a teacher, but when criticised by his master he transforms into a slunking, stroppy, eye-rolling teenager. The chemistry between Tennyson and Light unfolds beautifully throughout the production, adding another layer to Oberon and Puck’s relationship.

'A Midsummer Night's Dream' is one of Shakespeare’s most performed texts, and this production drags it into the contemporary era whilst remaining faithful to its Elizabethan setting, peppering it with added references and gags which will really drive home the play's inherent comedy and messages. 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' is perfect summer-time viewing and this streamed production is the next best thing to a magical evening at The Globe itself.

Reviewer - Gavin Hayes
on - 15/6/20

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