A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Shakespeare’s Globe, London
Friday 20th September 2013, 14.00
Directed by Dominic Dromgoole
Music by Claire van Kampen
Titania/Hippolyta – Michelle Terry
Oberon/Theseus – John Light
Puck / Philostrate – Matthew Tennyson
Hermia – Olivia Ross
Lysander- Luke Thompson
Helena – Sarah McRae
Demetrius – Joshua Silver
Bottom – Pearce Quigley
Flute / Thibe – Christopher Logan
Quince – Fergal McElherron
Straveling – Huss Garbiya
Egeus / Snug – Edward Peel
Tala Gouveia – Cobweb
Molly Logan – Moth
Stephanie Racine – Peaseblossom
Three hours including interval, so a full forty minutes longer than the Michael Grandage version playing on the other side of the River Thames. The Globe production started in May so nears the end of its run as the Grandage one begins. They are a total contrast in style, and I’m seeing the Globe one just six days after the Grandage, so comparison is inevitable.
The Globe always worries me with its statements that the show will go on even in a hurricane or belting rain, with no rain checks, and it’s held me back from going, even though friends have said it has a totally different atmosphere to indoor theatre on one hand, and ‘theatre in the park’ on the other. But on a balmy, sunny, autumn afternoon like today the theatre can weave its magic. It’s way more reactive and atmospheric than the National or RSC, and you don’t feel confined, or trapped in your seat, though we were seated. The production was interrupted by spontaneous applause a dozen times. There is an outdoor increase in projection for actors, but that’s no bad thing.
Pre-show when everyone was taking pictures (iPhone). No pictures during show obviously.
The first clear strength is focussing on a fierce Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, which is carried through to the Oberon / Titania relationship. The play starts with a mimed fight between the Athenians and the Amazonian women, with Hippolyta defeated and forced into the wedding. In this one, the Hippolyta role is equally as important as the Titania role. Michelle Terry’s Hippolyta /Titania never lets up on John Light’s roaring, powerful Theseus / Oberon. I like it when Oberon is omnipresent through the lovers scenes, and he is, stroking Helena’s hair, swinging on ropes, climbing vertically up ropes. Puck is with him (Matthew Tennyson) throughout, on ropes, on the balcony. Their movement and gymnastics is reminiscent of Peter Brooks production.
The kiss scene (I’ll say no more) is one of the moments in the play that invoked roars of laughter and ecstatic applause. When you have a strong Puck / Oberon interaction as here, it’s surprising how many productions sideline Puck. Puck closes the play. In earlier productions it was the star role. It’s back to importance here. Puck and Oberon both had bare chests and dramatic and effective body make up, so that Oberon had furry shoulders, a wild fairy king who can hoist Puck around at will.
Hippolyta is both a fierce woman, and a prankster. She is never defeated by Theseus, just captured. Even at the end, before the wedding, she trips him with her bow, sending him full length onto the ground. That power runs directly into her Titania.
It must be nearly a dozen ‘Dreams’ since I last saw it in Shakespearean costume, but they did have the lovers gradually strip off to shifts and shorts, which were correctly covered with mud as the script demands, unlike the crisp white underwear of Grandage’s lovers. The physicality of the lovers scene, which we take as read nowadays, can’t be done in Elizabethan dresses. It’s a relief not to see some added time-frame concept forced on the play, inevitably stretching thinner and thinner as they do. The Dream really suits period costume.
Lysander and Demetrius are both young, both superb. But there is not a single weak or lesser role in this production. Hermia and Helena were great, just as they were in the last three productions. Once Peter Brooks added the physicality and Hermia leaping on backs and being restrained by all, this is one of the funniest scenes in the theatre, extremely hard to do, requiring first-rate comic and physical acting, and it gets it every time. Yet another, ‘Phew! Fantastic!’ just as it was across the river last week.
We’re leaving the best. As every review notes, the Rude Mechanicals have never been bettered, never had more elaborate business. Let’s call them The Cloggies, because they first appear clog dancing, and their subsequent entrances are heard before they’re seen. Pearce Quigley gives a Bottom to rival my two favourites: David Troughton in the John Caird RSC production, and Christopher Logan in the Headlong production. But then in this production Christopher Logan turns up beside Quigley as Flute / Thisbe. Logan has matched his perfect version of Bottom with an equally wonderful Thisbe. White face, wild wig, slash of lipstick, and as the old saying goes ‘don’t give none of those gaudy colours, just good old red and yellow.’ He also does it full voice which comes out funnier than the high-pitched girlie voice most use, but outdoor projection is a factor here!
Quigley’s Bottom is in the camp school, but camp Mancunian, rather Russell Harty. He has the freedom to extemporise (well, that’s in the script too), and his added bits are hilarious, though adding ‘Is this shit … no blood’ when Pyamus picks up Thisbe’s scarf was just perplexing as the stain was bright scarlet, and a joke that fell flat. The prompting interaction when Pyramus does his scene was interplay with Peter Quince, was done more than I’ve seen before and both were so good it could take milking. Earlier, I don’t like a full ass head and consequent muffled voice and hidden facial reactions though, especially with an actor who is so funny to watch.
After half a dozen timid lions, Snug the Joiner as the lion is a totally different Snug: tall, elderly, slow, pipe smoking. For Pyramus & Thisbe they set up a stage, Bottom falls through it, loses a shoe, Snug has to hammer it together while they’re performing, and provide a saw when they can’t find a sword. Edward Peel doubles as Snug and Egeus, and I had no idea it was the same actor till I checked the programme afterwards. Feargal McElherron is a tiny, Mancunian Peter Quince, and brought the house down again and again, with his screamed excitement when he hears their play is preferred rivalling the “kiss” scene for loudest spontaneous applause. Unquestionably the best I’ve seen. The wall is encased in an eight foot long wicker fence with streaks of plaster. The hole that Pyramus and Thisbe must whisper through is at crotch / bum level, which is not the first time, but probably the best again.
The play was cut later than most modern versions, placing the lovers fight scene in a 100 minute part one. It worked because the Cloggies in the ‘Are we preferred?’ scene and the Pyramus and Thisbe scene were done in full, and extended with so much business. The surrounding Theseus/ Hippolyta lines are given full weight too, but this was the strongest Hippolyta role I’ve seen. I like a shorter second act, though for most directors, the lovers fight is such a highlight that they keep it for after the interval.
On the bows, the Globe knows how it should be done. You centre on the story, not on star names, so Oberon, Titania and Puck stand centre, flanked either side by the lovers. The Cloggies (Rude Mechanicals)n are in a back row. Bottom is always one of the most memorable roles on stage, but in the STORY he should be subservient to the “front story” of the three couples, and Quigley, Logan and McElherron take the bows in the back row, even though they were all unforgettable. The contrast was the RSC “All’s well That Ends Well” with Jonathan Slinger taking the front centre bows as the clown. Not the right etiquette at the RSC. It was right here.
Authentic instruments, with a ten minute pre-show. I loved the way musicians stayed in character, sometimes leaning over the balcony with Puck watching the action.
Musicians pre-show, iPhone
Snug’s pipe emitted no smell, but was puffed, tapped on stuff, and became a character. No gratuitous smoking.
Excellent notes on the play, especially by Michelle Terry on the origin of Hippolyta, her role. Meticulous production timeline on the play’s history and source extracts. Excellent eight section synopsis. A programme at RSC level (i.e. the best).
REVIEWS OF OTHER PRODUCTIONS OF “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on this blog:
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – BBC TV SCREEN version 2016