Emma Rice makes a brilliant start to her reign at the Globe with this riotously irreverent 'Dream'
‘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.
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Absolutely loved this refreshing take on one of my favourite plays. A riot of colour, brilliant acting, and top-notch audience engagement! Not a purist's take by any means, but completely in the essence of Shakespeare. I actually found myself thinking, if Shakespeare were alive - writing and directing plays - today, he'd have loved it!
Saw this on a recent afternoon, and gosh it was entertaining. So much invention! One thing I really liked was that the actors are now miked; yes, its not authentic but open air venues didn't have airliners flying over few minutes in Shakespeare's time.Anyway, I came home and booked for everything else in the season.
Absolutely outstanding! Inventive, anarchic, spellbinding and fantastic. The cast were superb, the music was glorious and the whole experience a visceral delight. This will live with me for a long, long time. rjx
I'm a big fan of the Globe, but this was not their best effort. The Indian setting was lovely but not incorporated into the story. A young woman played Hermia's "father," but little effort was made to have her seem male or elderly. Casting a man as "Helenus," while well-performed, seemed more about being "edgy" than anything else. There are few enough significant roles for women in Shakespeare - and theatre in general - do we really need to give one away just to be "controversial?"
There was too much emphasis on Puck's misbehaviours and not enough on the character. There's so much to explore in the Oberon/Puck relationship and I felt that was overlooked. If the Mechanicals were supposed to be "Globe volunteers," then maybe some of them could have been over 50 (or over 25) to make the group more diverse? Script rewrites were distracting; I felt the director didn't trust the audience to understand and enjoy Shakespeare's play as written. I left at the interval - not offended, just disappointed.
Overall, the production lacked a clear vision and seemed merely a random collection of gimmicks which never coalesced into a unified whole. Hey, they can't all be home runs, and the Globe hits far more than it misses. Two stars for the lovely setting and nice performances from the Lovers.
Very disappointing play,me and my boyfriend went to Taming of the Shrew at the Globe, and loved it so much, we bought tickets for Midsummer's Night Dream. But this was not nearly as good. Full of nudity and crude behavior that did nothing for the play. Very difficult to understand (more than regular for shakespear). Although we paid 80pounds we left at the break.