A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the staple of any respectable alfresco venue’s summer season, opened last night at Shakespeare’s Globe, bringing with it a heady mix of sexual tension, power play and a forest where anything goes.
In Dominic Dromgoole’s inventive and raunchy production, Michelle Terry as the feisty Titania and John Light as an impressively powerful Oberon lead the pack as King and Queen of this sexually liberated wood where, in the famous tale of fairy mischief and romantic manipulation, four young Athenians find themselves under their power.
While Hermia (Olivia Ross), Lysander (Luke Thompson), Helena (Sarah MacRae) and Demetrius (Joshua Silver) become entangled in an escalating hilarious predicament of misplaced lust, the girls growing more irate as the boys grow more doting, the magical wood attracts further trouble when a group of ramshackle players find one of their own transformed into an ass and becoming the object of Titania’s demanding affections.
Dromgoole’s vivid vision for Shakespeare’s famous fairy-filled forest is earthy and animalistic, with the ever-so-slightly frightening nymphs muddy legged and donning rams heads while just the subtlest sprinkling of glitter shimmers from their chests. Oberon leads the pack with a forceful hand, climbing columns, swinging from ropes, casually executing yogic moves and picking up the lithe, fey Puck – played by the boyish Matthew Tennyson – with one arm.
One moment fawning on Terry’s vivacious Titania, the next rewarding Puck’s tricky pixie ways with a Hollywood-worthy snog, Dromogoole makes Oberon and his fairy Queen’s provocative, cocksure ways a direct contrast to their Athenian playthings, whose virginal lust is delivered with a tongue in cheek playful innocence and comical confusion.
In turn, the hapless foursome’s city elegance – at least before they have lost half their clothes and fought through magical branches – shines brightly against the players’ red-faced, foot-stomping ways. For while Dromgoole’s production is packed with surprises and unique touches, this motley crew of intellectually challenged, wooden actors are as traditional and unsubtle as they come, inviting much laughter from Pearce Quigley’s deadpan performance as the know-it-all Bottom with an ego the size of his ass’ head and Fergal McElherron’s joyous turn as Peter Quince, a man who squeals with excitement before a performance and then struggles to keep food down – either end, delightfully – during.
Terry once again proves her brilliant versatility as an actress, employing a teasing, biting wit as Titania and her mortal counterpart Hippolyta; relying on her feminine wiles and stern tongue to get what she wants in a flirtatious, but tough performance. Light’s take on Oberon balances physical prowess with passion, while Tennyson’s balletic performance as a disingenuous, dry Puck brings an edge of the sinister to the forest amidst Silver and Thompson’s Disney Prince, cheeseball grins.
If you’ve yet to pay a trip to the Globe, this production would make for a perfect introduction to the venue’s unique theatrical experience. Hilariously funny and heart-warmingly romantic in equal measures, Dromgoole’s engaging show invites you to respond noisily in every scene, transporting you back to a time when audience interaction was encouraged, albeit with the then traditional mouldy fruit thankfully excluded from the otherwise raucous and bewitching proceedings.