Friday, 20 May 2016

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

Seldom has there been such exuberant engagement between the actors and the audience at this Shakespearean playhouse

Written by Georgina Brown
Georgina-Brown-colour-176Regular readers know that I haven’t been the greatest fan of Shakespeare’s Globe. The pursuit of Shakespearean authenticity – flat floodlights, no microphones – can make a chilly evening perched on a backless bench trying to hear Shakespeare’s verse above the whirr of passing helicopters something of an endurance test. All too often, performances are hopelessly upstaged by the glorious space – or even a bold London pigeon strutting across the stage.

Well, that’s all changed, thanks to the inaugural show (and I use the word deliberately) from the new artistic director, Emma Rice. For she has chucked out the authenticity rule book. The floodlights have been replaced by a state-of-the-art lighting system. Indeed, above the stage for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a sign announces Rice’s intentions loud and clear in red neon: ‘Rock the ground’. Mikes mean every word can be heard similarly loudly and clearly. And the space is rocking: with fabulous sitar music, blasts of Bowie and Beyoncé and, above all, with laughter. Seldom has there been such exuberant engagement between the actors and the audience, several of whom get a full-on snog from a fairy! And never has this arena been so full of action, energy and invention. Tubular ‘trees’ and huge white balloons (clouds? moons?) float above the heads of the groundlings, a surreal suggestion of the enchanted forest where this tale of tangled lovers becomes ever knottier before being merrily unravelled. Athenian youths are Hoxtonian hipsters. Helena is now Helenus, and he and his date Demetrius are going through a tricky patch. Titania is a super-sexy queen of the fairies, played by cabaret singer Meow Meow, terribly funny when she is trying to get her tights off in a hurry to jump into bed with Bottom. The so-called ‘rude mechanicals’ are the Globe’s cleaners and ushers, all women (which accounts for Lion’s mane being made of yellow Marigold gloves) but for Nick Bottom, who is the Bankside Health and Safety Officer and, like the rest of the youthful cast, moving as if with springs in his sandals (yes, he’s a socks-and-sandals sort).

Admittedly the poetry – and this play is filled with some of Shakespeare’s loveliest – has too little room to breathe and much of the romance gets lost in the raunchiness. But if it’s not Shakespeare for purists, it’s nevertheless pure summer fun, bringing the Globe and the Dream to vibrant life.

Until 11 September at Shakespeare’s Globe, Bankside, London SE1: 020-7401 9919, www.shakespearesglobe.com


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