How terrifying must the Elizabethan countryside have been? Even now urban folk can often feel ill at ease in rural wilderness but in the 16th century those acres of space must have been daunting; it's little wonder that a belief in the 'old religion' persisted even amidst that theological turmoil.
Dominic Dromgoole's excellent new production at the Globe captures some of that pagan spirit, where animal-masked fairies are a hidden, eerie presence. We're deep in Wicker Man territory here, where virginity is prized – we're reminded of Hermia's state in the opening scene when she's marked on the forehead by Hippolyta.
There's an intensity to this production, right from the outset with its depiction of Theseus' fierce wooing of Hippolyta. Michelle Terry, in the dual role of the Titania and Hippolyta, retains a haughty and unbridled independence throughout. One gets the impression that Theseus is in for a rocky marriage while the reconciliation between Oberon and Titania is not going to be an easy one judging by the way she demands "Tell me how it came this night?"
Terry is strong in both roles but I'm less convinced by John Light's Oberon, who does not seem to have the necessary authority in a battle of wills. However, Matthew Tennyson's Puck is a delightful presence, combining the requisite mixture of mischief and good will. There's also an excellent Lysander from Luke Thompson, half upper-class twit and half-fervent lover, he's the pick of the young mortals.
Michelle Terry as Titania (centre)
But while Dromgoole celebrates this rustic sexuality, there's also some superb comedy from the mechanicals. There's a perhaps a bit too much business – Bottom's forgetting of Peter Quince's team and the contrived spit when the word 'French' is pronounced are irritating, particularly when there's such richness from the troupe, starting with Pearce Quigley's rather mannered Bottom.
The Pyramus and Thisbe is genuinely, laugh-out-loud funny, a richly comic exposition of amateur acting, where anything that can go wrong will do so. There are beautiful moments too from Christopher Logan's Flute, gingerly crossing the stage to Huss Garbiya's Starveling, mourning his dead dog.
A Midsummer Night's Dream is a genuine crowd-pleaser that doesn't need too much messing about. Dromgoole has balanced the broader comedy with a reminder that the supernatural isn't always about fey sprites; that there's a darker menace and a raw sexuality too.