Mike Alfreds' production of Shakespeare's pastoral romantic comedy opens with the actors lying on the stage, all in their nightwear, as if in an adult sleepover. The idea is presumably to emphasise the dreamlike nature of the play. But what are we to conclude? The costuming trick may make sense if it were solely about the events in the wood, but it stretches the concept to hold that the whole of the play is but a dream. The couples even get married in their nightwear - is that a dream too?
And if the whole thing is a dream; then why is Bottom transformed so sparsely? Instead of the hairy ass's head that the text specifically mentions, he sports a couple of feathers, two white bits of plastic and a paper cup on his nose (shades of Morecambe and Wise's Jimmy Durante impressions). Surely, if this were truly a fantastical dream, then the imaginations would conjure up a monstrously authentic ass's head?
Fortunately, the production benefits from the accomplished comic performance of John Ramm as Bottom. Acting the busybody NCO to Paul Trussell's vainglorious and officious Quince, he is the obvious cheerleader to the troupe. But it's a good comic performance all round from the mechanicals, particularly from Jem Wall's Snug, whose energetic lion gets the biggest cheer of the night. There's also a energetic, winsome and almost balletic Puck from Simon Trinder.
The best performance of all, however, is Titania as played by Geraldine Alexander (who also doubles up as Hippolyta). In his programme notes, Alfreds says that he wants to omit the fairies' obsession with sex that has characterised most recent productions of this play. Well, he failed to do that, because Alexander's is a Titania filled with longing. When she and Paul Higgins' equally sexually-charged Oberon meet by moonlight, the quarrel between them seems very superficial - it wouldn't take too much for these two to end up in her fairy bower. Their desires are shared by the mortals. While watching the players, Alexander's Hippolyta and Higgins' Theseus lounge on their cushions like cats gorged on cream.
While this Globe production boast some fine acting - and the audience certainly leaves satisfied - there's one aspect of the evening that I find really annoying. That is the way in which some of the text has been tampered with in order to add to the number of malapropisms uttered by the mechanicals - these changes don't really add anything to the production and, in some cases, they detract.
For example, when Quince says "Bless thee Bottom, thou art transcommunicated" instead of "translated", not only is does it lack meaning and euphony, but it also loses the double (and prophetic) meaning that Bottom is about to have a transcendental experience in fairyland. Such things should be left alone. After all, I think we can assume that this guy Shakespeare knew a few things about writing.
- Maxwell Cooter