Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at the Globe Theatre - O for a glass of Love-In-Idleness...

Last week we went to yet *another* production at The Globe - we should get some sort of badge shouldn't we?  This time it was to see - it's her again - Emma Rice's version of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM.

I say 'version' as Rice has done her usual shtick of ripping out every third page from the text, rearranging the character genders for no real discernible reason and then throwing a bucket of coloured paint over it all.  Oberon uses the juice of the flower Love-In-Idleness to smear on the eyes of his Queen Titania and the mortal lovers in his wood to make them fall in love with the first thing they see.  Sadly I didn't have a glass of it on me as I had issues with the production.

Appropriately Rice has gone for an Asian flavour to her production with a sitar player front-and-centre, bright saffron-coloured flower garlands hanging in the doorways and several Asian actors in the cast paying the lead roles of Hermia, Oberon and Helenus.  Helenus I hear you cry?  Who is Helenus in the DREAM?  Welcome to the tipsy-tarty world of Emma Rice.... Helenus is the swapped gender character Helena, formerly the affection-starved female ex-lover of Demetrius, now Helenus the affection-starved GAY ex-lover of Demetrius.  It's all terribly modern.

The familiar Globe space has also undergone a transformation with huge inflatables almost blocking out the sky and long green diaphanous tubes which suggest tree trunks suspended over the groundling's heads.  It's certainly visually striking even if the 'tree trunks' can obscure the action at times.  It certainly does suggest the world of the stage spilling out into the auditorium as indeed it actually does... there are three large tables at the front of the stage which allow the actors to jump from the stage into the audience and back again.

So despite all this - was it magical?  Not really.  It was all fairly earthbound and for a season that is all about Wonder and losing yourself in storytelling there was precious few opportunities to do so.  The 'rude mechanicals' were dressed as Globe ushers and there was an interminable intro where two of them went through the do's and don'ts of the theatre which was tedious.

We also had to do without the presence of Australian cabaret star Meow-Meow in the double role of Hippolyta and Titania as she was having one of her regular nights off so Nandi Bhebhe was on instead.  As Hippolyta she let her red high-heels do all the acting while her Titania was regal in bearing if not in performance.  Having such an under-powered Queen threw more emphasis on Zubin Varla's Oberon which sadly didn't merit it - he played the role like a surly England football supporter still wandering around Marseilles looking for a fight.  I did like Titania's descent from the gods for her first entrance however, her voluminous frock spreading across the stage.

There were better performances among the lovers - Anjana Vasan was an impassioned and forceful Hermia and teamed well with Ankur Bahl as her best gay friend Helenus - this being an Emma Rice production their lifelong friendship was shown by them doing the dance routine from Beyonc√©'s SINGLE LADIES.  The sex change for Helena got wearying after a while as the character was played less for desperate comedy value than just as a prancing nancy boy.  How very not modern.

Edmund Derrington - last seen in the original cast of SUNNY AFTERNOON - was very good as Lysander and was particularly brave for the amount of time he was on stage in just his pants.  Ncuti Gatwa was an anonymous Demetrius although he is probably the basis of some interesting anagrams.

Ewan Wardrop as Nick Bottom got his laughs easily and well and as did Katy Owen's Puck although her constant 'business' pulled focus from scenes which she was not in - the confrontation scene between Oberon and Titania was largely ignored by the groundlings as Owens picked on them to snog.  Lucy Thackeray played the am-dram theatre director Quince in the style of a very bad Julie Walters impression.

However, as with even the worst version of the DREAM - and this wasn't that - by the time Bottom and his crew did "Pyrimus and Thisbe" I was enjoying it - Rice even managed to stick in a reference to the famous Peter Brook RSC production from 1970 - and by the time Katy Owens' Puck addressed the audience for a final time while Titania and Oberon flew above the stage (albeit on very thick hawsers) I found a trickly tear on my cheek - there is something quite magical in that last speech where Shakespeare addresses his audience down the centuries:

If we shadows have offended, Think but this, and all is mended, That you have but slumber'd here While these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, No more yielding but a dream, Gentles, do not reprehend: if you pardon, we will mend: And, as I am an honest Puck, If we have unearned luck Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue, We will make amends ere long; Else the Puck a liar call; So, good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends.

The production plays at the Globe until September, go see what you think...

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