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FringeReview UK 2019

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Shakespeare’s Globe

Genre: Classical and Shakespeare, Comedy, Live Music, Mainstream Theatre, Outdoor and Promenade, Theatre

Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe


Low Down

Directed by Sean Holmes, Jean Chan creates a riotous array of costumery and stage props. Composer Jim Fortune’s steel band score is led by Steve Pretty. Lydia Hardiman 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. Till October 13th.


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.


Amazon deliver a ‘fragile’ Amazon. Geddit? This one, 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.


Peter Bourke’s gimlety, lucid Theseus sports panto-tinpot garb in fuschia pink, massively be-capped, with Hippolyta on her release thrust into mint-green complementary garb, made to repeat lines on storyboards. That’s not as singular as Yoruba and Welsh emerging from some players, translated back by Shakespeare’s own lines.


Neither trope is followed through – though there’s a tang of Hippolyta’s sexual independence at the end. The other languages need far less excuse: their appearance is truly magical, like Elvish. As for the original, we do lose that madman, lover and poet all compact speech (despite being cited in the programme) but it’s otherwise textually full, at 2 hours 45.


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 (fashionable in Shakespeare productions just now) 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 Jocelyn Jee Esien’s Bottom. There’s little sense their actions precipitate climate change or local angst.


Wearing team t-shirts the Pucks are the sweetest shape-shifting of the production; the chief one in this show being the appealing Billy Seymour (a querulous Flute and Mustardseed too). Blown darts knock out their prey, and there’s a riotous civil-war pay-off at the end.


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 outtakes of Blake’s Seven or a cancelled sci-fi pilot.


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. 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.


Ekow Quartey’s more bullish Lysander – clumsy and appealing by turns – 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. Quartey’s sheer physicality contrasts with Ciaran O’Brien’s peevish begorrah (his Irishness guyed by fairies): he renders Demetrius wary, wiry and a touch mean: see him enunciate ‘I’d rather feed his carcass to my hounds’ of Lysander. Faith Omole’s Hermia inhabits Hermia’s immodesty as she enunciates ‘modesty’, either in pleading at court or with Lysander who looks puppyish. When Omole’s name-called ‘thou Ethiope’ there’s audible shock too.


There’s just one point where Omole’s whirlwind occludes nailing: ‘I am amazed, and know not what to say’ is virtually lost in flurry. She gets fierce but equally exudes a winningly hapless fury, especially with Amanda Wilkin’s wand-tall Helena: who’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 Omole’s face like a catapult; who responds with a face as animated as it’s crumpled the next moment with ‘low… and little’ spat out. Wilkin’s as funny as she’s clear; her 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. Lydia Hardiman 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.


Jee Esien’s Bottom is one of the candyish pillars, literally when translated to a stripy piñata ass. Energizing the show, she neatly explodes as overweening lead or terrifying apparition to Seymour, 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), Nadine Higgin’s Quince (also a menacing Egeus).


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.


Jee Esien 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 the line of this energy would be welcome, especially as Jee Esien 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, both a little bit abandoned. With Elliott, abandoned in another way is great – her seductive voice answered by an eagerly disoriented nothing-loathe Jee Esien. 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: it must be breathtaking at night. A few more touches like this would be welcome, but 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.