mon 14/10/2019

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's Globe – blazing-coloured, kick-ass carnival | reviews, news & interviews

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's Globe – blazing-coloured, kick-ass carnival

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's Globe – blazing-coloured, kick-ass carnival

This riotous production with its Latin American vibe shows the Battle of the Dreams is on

Nuptials with attitude: Ciaran O'Brién, Amanda Wilkin, Faith Omole, Ekow QuarteyTristam Kenton

Welcome to A Midsummer Night’s Dream as carnival – a blazing-coloured, hot-rhythmed, kick-ass take in which Oberon appears at one point as a blinged-up Elizabeth I and Puck exerts his powers as a flash-mob. Last month the glitter-ball hedonism of Nicholas Hytner’s gender-fluid Dream, which opened at The Bridge, felt like an impossible act to follow, but this riotous production by Sean Holmes at Shakespeare's Globe shows that the Battle of the Dreams is on.

The Latin American vibe that pervades the romantic madness in the woods is given a sinister twist through the decision to introduce Theseus as an ageing South American-style dictator. Post #MeToo Dreams are tapping strongly in to the undertone of sexual repression that pervades the opening scenes of Shakespeare’s deceptively light comedy, and there’s no doubt here that Victoria Elliott’s wretched metallic-torso-clad Hippolita is anything but Theseus’s prisoner.

This brings an obvious edge to the escapism that erupts as the lovers flee the authorities. Carnival – just like the image of the woods in medieval and Renaissance literature – is a metaphor for society turned upside down: and against the setting of a dictatorship, the jocular hedonism is transformed from playful rebellion to fight for survival.

Most Dreams live or die by the quality of their rude mechanicals, and there’s no doubt from the moment Nadine Higgin’s gold-booted blue-tressed Peter Quince struts onto the rainbow-garland-strewn stage that these are mechanicals with attitude. In fact they are possibly the best mechanicals this critic has seen, not least because of Jocelyn Jee Esien’s brilliant strutting incarnation of Bottom as a manic narcissist whose verbal explosions are like a cross between jazz impro and (non-obscene) Tourettes.

The lovers too are a boisterous revved-up crew who give as good as they get in the heightened comedy stakes. These days it seems increasingly difficult for any Helena to get laughs from the hideously self-loathing ‘I am your spaniel’ speech to Demetrius. Yet Amanda Wilkin delivers it with a tomboy vigour in which ‘spaniel’ is the verbal slip of an over-ardent lover trying to express herself. The mistake is remedied moments later with a raunchy canine growl that leaves no doubt about her assertiveness.

The coy flirtation between Ekow Quartey’s Lysander and Faith Omole’s glamorous Hermia when they first flee together into the woods is amplified too by Quartey’s Barry White-style serenade as he tries to seduce her. When she fails to respond to his charms, his retort is to let her sleep on a blanket while he produces an inflatable double mattress: a device that lends itself to further fun and games once Puck is let loose on the scene.The aesthetics of carnival are going to be a joy for any design team, and Jean Chan festoons the set with hallucinogenically-bright garlands that dangle like jungle creepers from the rafters. Her costume designs brilliantly combine the carnivalesque exuberance with surreal twists (in homage to the dream-vibe, many of the brightly-coloured fairies have one large protuberant eye on their costumes). Equally brilliantly, the lovers’ black and white costumes play with the Tudor aesthetic, so it becomes punkily aggressive. Ruffs don’t go round necks – they sprout like body armour from backs and shoulders, while all the lovers are well equipped with boots made not so much for ‘walkin’ as ‘stompin’.  

Peter Bourke’s hilariously eccentric Oberon (whose best moment is possibly when, in full attention-grabbing Queen Elizabeth-style bling he declares to the audience ‘I am invisible’) and Victoria Elliott’s Titania (pictured above) preside ably over the drug-induced madness. Elliott – who is a strong presence as Hippolita – struggles a little to assert herself as Titania until the moment that she bursts into song, revealing herself as a vocal powerhouse in this party-style forest.

Ultimately it’s in its glorious mash-up of musical styles (which ranges from the entire cast and audience rocking out to ‘In the jungle, the mighty jungle’ to Lysander warbling ‘Hello, Is it me you’re looking for?’) that the production achieves full lift-off. Three years after the Globe’s former artistic director – the brilliant Emma Rice – got all London talking with her modern take on the Dream, associate artistic director Holmes has revealed his own ingenious vision for making it sing for our times.

@Hallibee1

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