A Midsummer Night's Dream

Theatre, Shakespeare
4 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(8user reviews)
 (© Steve Tanner)
© Steve TannerZubin Varla (Oberon) and Meow Meow (Titania)
 (© Steve Tanner)
© Steve TannerNcuta Gatwa (Demetrius) and Ankur Bahl (Helenus)
 (© Steve Tanner)
© Steve TannerMeow Meow (Titania) and Nandi Bhebhi (First Fairy)
 (© Steve Tanner)
© Steve TannerEwan Wardrop (Bottom)

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.

Average User Rating

3.9 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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1 of 1 found helpful

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! 

1 of 1 found helpful

I found the this modernisation of this shakespeare classic refreshing. The acting was top notch and I cannot fault any of the actors. The stage was set up such that the actors perform in the midst of the standing crowd, which added to the experience. I loved the set and the costumes and it was really fitting with the indian theme. The standing places are definitely my recommendation as compared to the wooden benches, even if you are not too tall as the stage is elevated.

1 of 1 found helpful

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. 


Why do I admire Emma Rice? Because she managed to bring back in Shakespeare Globe theatre audience aged below 40s, by having productions with fresh/modern twists; And

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" is no exception.

The classic Shakespeare's play has been radically changed to become fresh/modern while not losing all the meanings and comic elements of the original play. Nice costumes, brilliant actors and the Globe's sensational place. I wouldn't ask anything more for a theatre night out.


The air was still warm and a crowd of people, dizzy with wine and the late summer, clustered round a busker outside the Anchor on London's Bankside. Their energy matched that of another crowd, the one we were headed for, beginning to form around the wonderfully anachronistic timbered building that squats benignly in the shadow of the towering Tate Modern. In fact 'Wonder' is the buzzword for this summer's Globe season, and this midnight matinee was to be no exception.

'Wonder', itself lit up above the audience gathering in the Globe's courtyard, signposted both the way to our seats and our expected reaction to the huge silver balloons and streamers hovering above our heads.

It was my first experience of the new and controversial electric sound and light systems installed this year at the Globe and while it did allow for more innovative use of lighting and music, it did, for me, reduce precisely the 'wonder' that is unique to productions at the Globe. The gently strumming sitar player perched in the gallery was scarce heard above the pulsing radio at the beginning of the production, and the musicians were rendered invisible due to their music being streamed through the huge speakers (which reduced the sight-line of those in the highest seats). The arguments for and against the new sound and light systems have already been thrashed through so all I will say is that for me it reduced the unique experience of being in the Globe - we could have been in any theatre anywhere.

And so to the production itself: A Midsummer Night's Dream. A fitting play for a midnight production that poked fun at the Globe's stewards and their reputation for being true acolytes of the gods Health and Safety. A daring and energetic interpretation that took Shakespeare's playful approach to gender fluidity one step further by introducing Helena as 'Helenus', giving his reluctant lover Demetrius's final summation that he will no longer deny his true self a much more poignant dimension.

Meow Meow made for a beautiful Titania, both dazzlingly elegant and endearingly clumsy, drawing the eye through her sparkling delivery and her cabaret-inspired performance.

Puck was suitably 'puckish', childish and flirtatious and wickedly unpredictable, stealing the show at times as she made the most of her proximity to the groundlings.

The fairies, heeled and tasselled, male and female, kept the energy levels high as they danced and sashayed through the show into the early hours.

The Globe's new artistic director has been criticised for not having read much Shakespeare, but if this first season, and this production are anything to go by, she clearly knows enough to recognise what the bard himself also clearly knew - that the power and the wonder lie firmly in the hands of the actors. 

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

0 of 1 found helpful

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.

0 of 1 found helpful

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.