The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting
archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new
shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of
watching live theatre
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Shakespeare's Globe and BBC Culture In Quarantine 2020
Emma Rice directed this Dream in 2016 as her debut as Artistic Director of Shakespeare's Globe. Her tenure did not last long, largely because lively and inventive productions like this violated the long-held Globe policy of making Shakespeare as dull as possible.
It also broke with
tradition by making inventive use of the unique theatre rather than
just repeating the sort of productions that could as easily been done
on conventional stages. Fortunately we have this delightful video
record of how much fun a Globe production can be.
Rice sets the tone
with an original comic bit in which what purport to be Globe staff
put a fresh twist on the standard No Photos No Phones announcement.
They will return a scene later as modern-day versions of
Shakespeare's rude mechanicals – Bottom the Health And Safety
Officer, Snug the Cleaner, and the like.
Meanwhile the opening
established that Shakespeare's ancient Athens is now modern London.
Theseus and Hippolyta are an East End gangster and his floozy,
Demetrius is a Hoxton hipster and, in a twist that proves
surprisingly easy to fit in, Helena is now gay male Helenus.
Rice places a couple of big tables out in the audience, and these
become satellite stages, allowing the actors to pop up or move around
among the groundlings, interacting with them and unforcedly and
enjoyably breaking the fourth wall.
Every opportunity in the
a song or dance is made use of, and the exotic and magical atmosphere
of the fairy-filled forest is enhanced by the presence on an upper
stage of a sitar player.
So the whole thing is a
surprising and entertaining delight – and this is so even though
there is nothing particularly special about any of the individual
As is now standard
practice, the two royal couples are
doubled, but neither Zubin Varla as Theseus and Oberon or Meow Meow
as Hippolyta and Titania really distinguish much between their two
characters. The two men are both crude tough guys, the two women both
Varla is hardly
stretched by his roles and Meow Meow, a
talented and charismatic cabaret performer, seems woefully underused
Katy Owen makes Puck
exhaustingly manic throughout, with
insufficiently-developed hints of a passionate desire to please her
master, but Ewan Wardrop's Bottom is just an amiable and somewhat
anonymous nice guy.
Ankur Bahl successfully
walks the thin line of
making Helenus comically gay without falling over into stereotype,
but Edmund Derrington, Ncuti Gatwa and Anjana Vasan can't do much to
individualise the other three lovers.
This is a case of a
is bigger than its parts, a director's triumph that proves that
imagination, entertainment and Shakespeare are not mutually
The multi-camera, multi-microphone video version not only catches all the close-up action you could wish, but also captures the spirit and experience of being in the Globe audience.
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