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A CurtainUp London Review
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Mike Britton’s design boldly transforms the Globe into a solemn Athens, quickly overturned into an anarchic, raucous, colour fest for the forest. The black cloths covering the theatre’s painted columns and backdrop are replaced by a bright blue drape and punk-style fairies plant fuchsia flowers in the stage. Whilst the Athenian court was dressed in black puritanical costume, the fairies appear in richly-coloured, torn period-costumes (including tutus for the men) and smudged make-up. Meanwhile, a large silver balloon anchored to the Globe’s roof bobs in the wind and in and out of the audience’s consciousness. As the evening grows darker, the moon becomes a more magical symbol of the scene’s enchantment.
The lovers, one of the most difficult components to execute successfully, are played with delightful abandon, all-encompassing self-involvement and physically-expressed bickering. Well-orchestrated, their quarrels are full of clever symmetries and overstated movement. The lovers may border on the self-parodic, but their exaggerated emotions reflect the highly-coloured background. Whilst their scenes of prolonged jealousies, exchanged and unrequited loves, are often tedious when played in earnest, the lively portrayals in this production never bore.
Moreover, the comic strength of the lovers’ scene does not impinge upon the Mechanicals’ clowning, as so often happens in productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is largely due to Michael Matus’ excellent Peter Quince, overseeing his band of amateur actors with genial authority. Bottom (played by the accomplished comic actor Paul Hunter) hangs upon Quince’s words with all the enthusiasm of a hungry dog awaiting some Pedigree Chum. In keeping with the amplified tone of the rest of the production, all innuendoes are fully and absolutely exploited, whilst Bottom and Flute (Peter Bankolé) actually enjoy their homosexual love affair as Pyramus and Thisbe.
The fairies, on the other hand, are played with suitably riotous flair, whilst Puck (Michael Jibson) is unusually unathletic: a refreshing, if knowing, antidote to the trapeze-artist Pucks we often see. Their perfect indifference to humans’ welfare is nicely revealed when he extracts the mortal lovers’ eyes in order to anoint them with the flower’s love potion. The rulers, on the other hand, lack zest in parts and supremacy in others. Undermining the play’s structural framework somewhat, Siobhan Redmond’s Titania is frivolously girlish and Tom Mannion’s Oberon is overall lacklustre, in spite of some interesting direction which makes him truly repentant for deceiving his fairy queen.
This high-spirited, intrepid production will not perhaps go down in history as the definitive production of Shakespeare’s comedy, but is nevertheless an enjoyable way to spend a summer evening, with a beguiling design, sumptuous colours and abundance of comedy.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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