At its best, the Globe’s 2023 outdoor season opener gives us a taste of the seriously messed up production that lurks within Shakespeare’s beloved family comedy ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.
James Maloney’s demonic live jazz score combined with Globe boss Michelle Terry’s performance as a molten-faced, folk horror Puck provides some truly outlandish moments. The scene in which Terry’s sinister spirit sends the four human lovers who have strayed into her enchanted woods back to sleep is gloriously weird, a nightmarish cacophony of skronking horns and discombobulatingly distorted voices.
As a whole, though, Elle While’s production doesn’t hit a coherent groove or take its horror elements much further than Terry’s unsettling Puck. Nonetheless, the evening’s various parts are all very enjoyable, even if they don’t blend seamlessly. The all-female, WI-ish Mechanicals are fun, especially Mariah Gale’s head girl-style Bottom. The genderfluid quartet of lovers are par for the course these days, but ‘I, Joan’ star Isobel Thom is great as an atypically sensible Hermia, who is mortified by the increasing depths of nonsense her friends descend into when Puck spikes them with love magic. And Jack Laskey and Anne Odeke’s raucously affectionate Theseus and Hippolyta are a nice break from the frosty couple of current orthodoxy. I was also a fan of takis’s pleasingly OTT, ‘Labyrinth’-style costumes.
At the end of the day, this play gets done so much – this is the Globe’s fourth in a decade, and second to star Terry – that it’s hard to bring something genuinely new to it, artistically. It’s perhaps a little frustrating that there’s an original route that this one might have taken that it ends up shying away from. But it’s hardly by-the-numbers tourist fodder – it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does have a jolly old time spinning it.