The Globe’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is available:
– As a DVD from Amazon UK for £15.25 / ~$18
– As a DVD from Amazon.com for $16.98
– From The Globe Player for streaming for £5.99 (~$9) and for download as an MP4 for £11.99 (~$16)
Prices are indicative – check the actual price at the Vendors’ links above.
Our Bottom Line:
A memorable production. I went home and dreamt a midsummer night’s dream!
Our Review: (*****)
To the Vue cinema last night (28th July) to see The Globe’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I have to admit to a certain level of anticipation, after the success of their productions of The Tempest, and Macbeth. And the news seems to be getting out. There was an audience of thirty-four people, considerably up from the earlier plays, but perhaps that was due to the popularity of the play?
The cinema darkens, the film fades in, and we’re off. We’re faced with a bare Globe Stage, extended slightly with a V-shape projecting into the Pit for a special effect later (the discovery of Bottom and Titania, by Oberon). The tiring house is decorated with greenery at various strategic places: the gallery; at stage level; on the columns. Otherwise a bare stage – just as I like it. For the forest scenes, curtains are drawn across the tiring house to provide a stylised forest background.
The play starts with a danced battle between Theseus and his crew and Hippolyta and her Amazonian warriers – theirs is going to be a marriage of conquest, and Hippolyta is not amused. She shows her sympathy for downtrodden females by drawing a cross on Hermia’s forehead before exiting, reluctantly, at Theseus’s command.
This version of A Midsummer’s Night Dream is a battle of the sexes. John Light (Theseus) also plays Oberon, and Michelle Terry (Hippolyta) delightfully plays a strong, physical Titania, immensely pissed-off with Oberon.
And no Arthur Rackham fairies in this production! The fairies mostly wear animal masks: Oberon in a magnificent stag’s mask and the others in woodland animals. These are woodland spirits, more like clan totems than Victorian fairies, and they could well be from Theseus’ Ancient Greece, or Celtic Mythology.
The bare set is offset by these magnificent costumes. The court and courtiers of Athens are dressed in magnificent Elizabethan costumes, though the longer the young lovers spend in the forest, the less dressed, dirtier, and more ragged they become. The rude mechanicals are dressed as workers wearing clogs; providing many opportunities for clog dancing, as if in a ‘satyr’ play, with only Bottom making an attempt, as befits the leading man, to wear stylish clothes. And the spirits in the forest are wild, animalistic spirits. Puck has hair on his chest like an open waistcoat; eyes surrounded by tattoo make-up like a deer, and feather horns in his hair; Oberon his stag horns; a bare chest, with markings on his chest, and black doublet and hose. Both Puck and Oberon wear exaggerated cod pieces – at least I think they were exaggerated. Sex looms large in this production.
Just as the costumes showed city and forest life, the music too provided court music for court scenes (the dance at the beginning of the play; the bergomask after Pyramus and Thisbe, etc) but wild tribal chants for the forest scenes which had the power to thrill at least this audience member.
The production was directed by Dominic Dromgoole, and this production must have added to his already considerable reputation. In addition to the general concept and design, the production was filled with the most delightful directorial details, only a few of which I can mention here:
Each column on the stage had a rope hanging down. These ropes were used again and again for delightful effects: Oberon climbs high up the column to overhear the lovers; at a moment of delight he swings on the rope half-way across the stage; Titania uses the end of the rope as her own ass’s tail when making love to Bottom; etc etc.
In the lovers’ confused fights, they form and re-form into different knots of human bodies, like Ancient Greek fighters on a vase, or Celtic knotwork.
Hermia (delightfully played by Olivia Ross) used marvellously mannered head movements and smiles throughout the production.
Oberon throws a flower to Puck across the stage, for it to magically appear in Puck’s hand.
The stage on which Pyramus and Thisbe is played is far too small for the players, and is ill-built, leading to many opportunities for comic business, none of which are missed!
When the lovers are being brought together so the confusion can be brought to an end, the fairies place branches in the lovers’ way so they have to struggle through bushes and briars to reach their allotted places.
And oh!, the language. The play is a farce, and the language plays its part in bringing out the farcical nature of the play – the rhythms of the verse, and the rhymes are used to great effect.
And so this well-known play unwinds to reveal the set pieces we know and love:
The rude mechanicals planning the play with an insufferably smug Bottom, the AmDram leading man
The fight in the forest between Oberon and Titania
The rather raunchy love-making between Titania and Bottom
The discovery of the dishevelled, dirty, half-undressed, and amorous lovers in the forest, by Theseus and Hippolyta. This scene is not usually one of the highlights of the play, but it was in this production.
The tedious brief scene of young Pyramus and his love Thisbe, very tragical mirth, all of which it is.
And a personal favourite, the blessing of the house and the couples at the end of the play.
As I hope is obvious, the play is a great success. If you get the opportunity to see it, go! You can also buy a DVD of the production, or stream it (or download as an MP4) from the Globe Player (see link at the top of this review). On the basis of the three Globe productions I’ve seen over the last month (The Tempest, Macbeth, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream), the Globe Onscreen productions should be a must-see in every Shakespeare-lover’s diary.
Of course, the production isn’t faultless. I’ll mention three difficulties that I found:
The emphasis on sexual conflict – the battle of the sexes – throughout the production introduced a couple of problems:
The confusion and conflict between the lovers was not as funny as it might have been. It was not poorly performed, but we have had so much conflict by then that it lost the benefit of contrast.
The blessing of the house and couples at the end of the play was less magical than it can be.
And I’ll end with a personal hobby-horse: again the shouting school of acting was in evidence. Oberon (John Light) in particular was guilty of it. What is the Globe’s voice coach thinking of!!!
A memorable production. I went home and dreamed a midsummer night’s dream!
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