• Theatre, Shakespeare
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A Midsummer Night's Dream

4 out of 5 stars

Emma Rice makes a brilliant start to her reign at the Globe with this riotously irreverent 'Dream'

Andrzej Lukowski

Time Out says

‘Did Emma Rice send you?’ spits Lucy Thackeray’s Tina Quince as Margaret Ann Bain’s Philostrate tries to confiscate her tambourine. ‘I’ll have you know this was given to me by Mark Rylance’.

For all the blithe interviews in which new Globe boss Rice – the theatre’s third leader after Rylance and Dominic Dromgoole – has said how little she knows about Shakespeare, let’s make one thing clear: she knows exactly what she’s doing. And her first production for the Bankside institution is an absolute blinder.

Though not as out-there as the ‘Cymbeline’ she did with her erstwhile company Kneehigh a decade ago, it’s more revolutionary, gleefuly pointedly hauling the Globe into a new epoch. Rice’s ‘Dream’ is a wild, bright, polysexual romp in which the theatre’s longstanding fidelity to the Elizabethan period is merrily chucked out of the window. Almost everyone is in modern dress, there’s a Bollywood-style sitar soundtrack, the lighting rig and sound system have been souped up, a vivid, tactile set from Börkur Jónsson is based on giant wobbling balloons, and Shakespeare’s script does not survive unscathed.

Still, Rice’s ebullient innovations never feel out of step with the spirit of the play – it doesn’t feel like one of those pointedly ‘adult’ ‘Dreams’, just a production in touch with the play’s anarchic id. 

The most notable innovation is Helena becoming Helenus (a sassy Ankur Bahl), a move that rather spices up the lovers storyline, with Lysander and Demetrius now flip-flopping between straight and queer on their one wild night in, er, Hoxton (no Athenian woods here). 

Beyond Helenus, the most ostentatious innovation is to turn am-dram-obsessed bumpkins The Mechanicals into a group of dotty Globe stewards, led by Thackeray’s Quince and Ewan Wardrop’s hilariously Alan Partridge-like Bottom. Elsewhere Zubin Varla’s fairy king Oberon is a magnificent letch in period garb, swigging from a two-litre bottle of Strongbow; cabaret star Meow Meow is a hoot as both a rather undignified Titania and a gangster’s moll Hippolyta; and Katy Owen’s marvellous, audience-baiting Puck is an absolute loon – screeching and cackling and force-feeding bananas to audience members (‘What is wrong with you?’ snaps Varla’s Oberon, not unreasonably).

Sure, it’s a bit panto. Purists will freak out. And there may be those who feel worried that it has fundamentally changed what the Globe is about, in terms of it no longer existing to offer a quasi-authentic ‘Shakesperian’ experience.

But the bottom line is it’s a bloody joy: ravishing, engrossing and laugh-out-loud funny. Rice has reinvigorated the Globe, but the Globe has reinvigorated her – Kneehigh’s productions have become somewhat repetitive in recent years, but this doesn’t feel like a Kneehigh production. It feels like Shakespeare, taken to his gloriously anarchic max.


£5-£45. Runs 3hr
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