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FringeReview UK 2021

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Shakespeare’s Globe

Genre: Classical and Shakespeare, Comedy, LGBTQ, Live Music, Mainstream Theatre, Physical Theatre, Theatre

Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe


Low Down

Directed by Sean Holmes (Assistant Director Prime Isaac), Jean Chan creates a riotous array of costumery and stage props. Composer Jim Fortune’s steel band score is led by trumpeter Steve Pretty (Steve Thompson Trombone, Ed Ashby Tuba, Ollie Weston Saxophone, Olly Blackman ad Luke Christie Percussion). Sydney Florence supervises the fantastical costumes made by a team of ten. Megan Cassidy co-ordinates the wardrobe’s multiple sourcing, with Gemma Fox and Karen Shannon’s millinery, Pam Humpage’s wigs and Tess Dignan Head of Voice. Till October 30th.

Streamed live September 25th.


We so need this. A Dream full of quotations. This Where the Wild Things Are jamboree is full, well joyful of them. Not just its own summer 2019 incarnation at the Globe which this revival builds on, but a witty riff on a few moments from the iconic Bridge one that autumn under Hytner, the finest since Brook’s. It’s deliberate, we’re meant to snook its cock.

And why not? Since a couple of Hytner’s tropes were shared by the original Globe Dream. 2021’s Dream blasts in determined to outdo its earlier self in exuberance, sprint through magic without an interval. Less raunch, more raucous as before, now its adrenalin-rush never stops. If it wasn’t family-friendly I’d swear it’s on something. Six of the original 11-strong cast return, but it’s fresh, different, even if many gags revive brilliantly with the overall production.

And this production too is streamed live on September 25th making access in these anxious times universal – and so necessary.

Can you read a Globe Dream in the way those columns are striped? Here they’re maypoles to out-candy that ‘painted maypole’ jibe Hermia throws at taller Helena. A Sendak send-up to inspire our inner adult. The wit in this production, the anticipations, the physical jokes are new-minted. Not mint-green, that’s back, but newly lived-through.

Again Amazon deliver a ‘fragile’ Amazon. Geddit? This one, a returning Victoria Elliott is at the spitting end of Hippolyta and if as Titania she comes into her own with her dear, even as hunter she drags in a dead deer like Herman the dead rabbit in Monty Python.

Now though Hippolyta roars a snappier Kiwi ha! at Hermia before leaving, gifting her Amazonian spirit.

What transpires in Elliott’s Hippolyta is a more satisfying through-line than 2019. Less finesse, more fire. With cast-changes, the multi-language moments translated back by Shakespeare’s lines are gone in this streamlined 2 hours 15 straight through.

Peter Bourke returns with a gimlety, lucid Theseus. He sports panto-tinpot garb (sort of Seven Greek generals) in fuschia pink, massively be-capped (um, The Comedy About a Bank Robbery anyone?), with Hippolyta on her release thrust into a now blood-red non-complementary garb, and no longer made to repeat lines on storyboards but dodge and scowl behind pillars.

This Hippolyta has more agency from the start; crucial to how she ends up. There’s now more than just a tang of Hippolyta’s sexual independence at the end. You have to see it.

As for the original, we do lose that madman, lover and poet all compact speech (despite being cited in the 2019 programme) but it’s not drastically cut.

Directed by Sean Holmes, Jean Chan’s set creates a riotous array of bunting and streamers stretched across to galleries, down to a flower-strewn blue wheelie-bin (a recent fashion in Shakespeare productions) where the braying couple enjoy lid-lifting sex.

As Oberon and Titania, the cut-through vocality of Bourke and Elliott’s freewheeling northern tang seem liberated. Where there’s much eco-argument and Indian boy-barter it seems background mood-music. They seem more animated when apart, Bourke swatting the multiplied Pucks (much of the cast), and Elliott cavorting vowels with Sophie Russell’s Bottom. There’s little sense their actions precipitate climate change or local angst. That’s not what this Dream’s about.

Wearing team t-shirts the Pucks are the sweetest shape-shifting of the production; the chief ones in this show being the appealing George Fouracres (a querulous Flute and Mustardseed too) and Ciaran O’Brien borrowed from being Demetrius. Blown darts knock out their prey, and there’s a riotous civil-war pay-off at the end.

Fouracres’ flute volubly bellow-mends his voice, though the nailing pathos of dying Thisbe is a little guyed. This Flute emulates Bottom’s Pyramus, and it’s very funny but one misses that thrill when Flute proves the real actor, drawing a moment of silence, even tears.

Rich rainbow-festooned costumery and stage props make more phantasmagoria than the greenery some previous productions plump for. The four lovers sport Athenian weeds in black-and-white with frilly shoulder-pads like Elizabethan outtakes of Blake’s Seven or a cancelled sci-fi pilot stranded in the 1590s.

The lovers are a delight, the badinage and emotional bandages after lacerating ricochets thrill back and forth. Separate almost from everyone else, their quartet sings, in a subtly different way to 2019. That doesn’t mean they’re immune to fairies’ darts, but their garb envelops them in another universe, as if they can’t see fairy technicolour.

Bryan Dick’s a fresh Lysander – clumsy and appealing by turns – almost signals a particular moment in trying to prevent Hermia from spilling their intentions; then takes over and completes the job himself. It’s one of those threads of danger that could be developed.

Dick’s a warm match for Nadi Kemp-Sayfi’s Hermia; they’ve both a little lost their way as he confesses. As if exile’s no real option. They’re gentle, reflective lovers, both you feel soberer than the altogether more volatile Helena and Demetrius in this production. There’s a matching here both believable and touching.

Dick’s sheer physicality contrasts with Ciaran O’Brien’s peevish begorrah (his Irishness guyed by fairies) But he’s more dangerous now, even more imposing. O’Brien renders Demetrius still wary, wiry but meaner: see him enunciate ‘I’d rather feed his carcass to my hounds’ of Lysander. He’s a standout.

Kemp-Sayfi’s appealing fresh Hermia inhabits Hermia’s immodesty as she enunciates ‘modesty’, either in pleading at court or with Dick’s Lysander who looks puppyish. Kemp-Sayfi exudes adolescent bewilderment but not beyond her first boldness bold. You really believe Helena’s ‘were not made to woo’ is for this ‘modest’ warm-hearted Hermia.

Kemp-Sayfi’s whirlwind has diminuendo moments: ‘I am amazed, and know not what to say’ is less declamatory than genuinely deflated.

She gets fierce but equally exudes a winningly hapless fury, especially with Shona Babayemi’s wand-tall Helena: a Helena whom you feel vocally too might be fist-faster with striking vocal projection if not ideally clear. Babayemi’s zippy, trippy, rocking back on her heels, super-sashaying and drawing from her corner like a fridge magnet so ‘she was a vixen when she went to school’ is almost visible as it hits Kemp-Sayfi’s face like a school catapult; who responds with a face as animated as it’s crumpled the next moment with ‘low… and little’ spat out. Babayemi’s sallies soar.

Composer Jim Fortune’s rappy Hackney Colliery steel-band score blossoms in a brass quintet led by Steve Pretty in the gallery – they occasionally descend too. Sydney Florence supervises the fantastical costumes made by a team of ten. Megan Cassidy co-ordinates the wardrobe’s multiple sourcing, with Gemma Fox and Karen Shannon’s stripy millinery, Pam Humpage’s wild wigs. Tess Dignan works for the ensemble’s necessary vocal clarity outdoors.

Russell’s Bottom is one of the candyish pillars, literally when translated to a stripy piñata ass, though even without that she’s full of sequinny sartorial assertion. Russell’s reflective moments are even finer than her magnificent braggadocio.

Energizing the show, she neatly explodes as overweening lead or terrifying apparition to Fouracres, Rachel Hannah Clarke’s exasperated Snug keeping the show together, Jacoba Williams’ worried Snout (with a fantastic white lycra Wall routine involving a large rod, cue Pink Floyd), Nadine Higgin’s authoritative and burnished-voiced Quince (also a menacing Egeus). And don’t miss the dromedary lion with  – yes – ‘The lion sleeps tonight’ conga-ing offstage.

As for Starveling – it could be any one of us, led up and asked to con some lines and at intervals return to the stage for a bit more fun with a bicycle yoked to a float. A hugely popular decision. And yes there’s that bit when Starveling’s asked for a an almanac on their mobile and everyone poses for a selfie.

Russell naturally blossoms as Elliott’s paramour with a wondering final speech about her ‘most rare vision’ properly pausing. Her interjections to Theseus’ heckles are dispatched with a guild pride that brooks even rulers. Some more in this line would be welcome, especially as Russell elsewhere explodes through two worlds like a pin-ball on a breakout.

It’s there in the lovers too, though the essential engine of this depends on them and not the dual hierarchy of Elliott and Bourke, both excellent, with more chemistry than I remember from 2019. Elliott, abandoned to herself is great – her seductive voice answered by an eagerly disoriented nothing-loathe Russell. Bourke only has Puck: but that’s half the cast.

There’s a scramble for words to keep pace with spectacle; spectacle often wins. This means magic’s fitful as Globe productions can rarely involve hushed moments. But these arrive too, particularly with a set of tapers retiring backwards through the main entrance: breathtaking at night. There’s enough misdirection to evoke moonshine. And a carnival riot of joy tempered with a multiple personality inflicting knock-outs on itself. There’s worse metaphors to awaken from. Either in person or streamed, don’t miss this.