I’ll start with a slightly unusual confession. One of the video tapes I watched on repeat as a child was the 1999 movie version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – one with an all-star cast that passed me by, but filled with fairies, love, and trouble, that utterly captured my imagination. I can’t profess to be an expert of Shakespeare’s work, but the prospect of seeing this magical story told on The Globe’s stage was a real thrill.
There’s no greater setting for one of the Bard’s plays than The Globe. This space is utterly magical. Tonight there’s a hum of awe as the doors open to the auditorium, and an energy that the standing audience members emit throughout, under the darkening, almost midsummer sky. But the true magic begins as soon as the cast emerge onto the stage in a mass of smoke and burst of sound.
How do you go about recreating a classic? It’s hard to avoid pondering on this. Director Elle While’s production is fresh and fun, yet doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable truths of Shakespeare’s language. It’s not all fairies, potions and love: the undercurrents of misogyny, colonialism and ableist language are shocking. And whilst at times this results in audible gasps throughout the auditorium, the cast handle this language sensitively and manage to make the performance palatable for a modern audience.
Every single actor on stage is a true joy to watch. Mariah Gale’s portrayal of Bottom is a delight, and her final moments on stage leave the entire Globe roaring with laughter. Even the surely teenage boys, obviously dragged here by their teacher, can’t help but crack a smile. Jack Laskey is the perfect Oberon, commanding his power across the stage with ease, whilst his Titania, played by Marianne Oldham, is truly enchanting. But our mischievous and troubling guide Puck, played by Michelle Terry, who also happens to be the Globe’s Artistic Director, manages to be terrifying, endearing, and hilarious all at once.
What draws me to this play, both as a child and adult, is the magic. The fairies are not portrayed as friendly little forest sprites, but potentially dangerous and vindictive creatures who can cause true havoc. The genuine fear around fairies and changelings in European folklore of Shakespeare’s time is tapped into by the Bard throughout the play. And in this production, the Globe doesn’t shy away from harnessing this fear. Fairies appear on stage in costumes featuring 17th Century shapes, with flowers and leaves interwoven. They move en masse in bold and unusual dances, with sound effects from the band above only adding to the unsettled atmosphere. It’s truly magical, but it’s not the wing-wearing, glittery magic you might expect.
The band are as much as part of the show as the rest of the cast, sitting above the main stage in a gallery, and puncturing the show with James Maloney’s jazz and folk inspired interjections. It’s intriguing to watch the percussion emerge to create the sound effects for the trouble-making fairies, in particular the thunder sheet. Who needs electronics!?
This is one of those shows where you could write a whole book about the interpretation, the production, the costumes, the cast, and the musicians. Unfortunately, my editor would hastily send my ramblings back, but there really aren’t enough words to demonstrate how much I loved this production. It truly brought that childhood love for the work back to life, and although the course of our love for the Bard never can run smooth, with historical perceptions and attitudes, this is a play well worthy of the adoration of a modern audience.
Produced by Shakespeare’s Globe
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Elle While
Composer James Maloney
A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays at Shakespeare’s Globe until Saturday 12 August. Further information and bookings can be found here.