There have been plenty of productions recently that relish exploring the darker side of this play. It seems that too many have sought to bring out the Freudian elements of the text, relishing the opportunity to examine the hidden meanings in this, one of Shakespeare’s most sexual plays, at the same time forgetting that this is, above all, a comedy.
This was never really going to happen in Jonathan Munby’s inventive and jolly Globe production. This is not the theatre to explore the darker recesses of this play but even so, Munby isn’t slow to pick on some familiar human weaknesses.
What is striking is that Helena and Hermia clearly have a love-hate relationship from the outset - old friends they may be, but even old friends have an eagerness to settle old scores. What this means is that their falling-out in the wood does not emerge out of nowhere but is a continuation of that feud. There’s a particularly good scene where Hermia and Lysander contort themselves around Helena (the excellent Laura Rogers), almost oblivious to her presence, and presenting a tableau that’s to be repeated in the final act when Pyramus and Thisbe hold their assignation between the wall.
There’s also a strong performance from Tom Mannion as a very measured Theseus – really trying to live up to his promise to woo Hippolyta in a different key – but also as a vengeful Oberon, his Scottish accent providing an air of additional menace. Siobhan Redmond is a warm Hippolotya, embracing Hermia after Egeus’s demand for her death, and a flirty Titania.
There’s plenty of amusement from the rest of the mechanicals, especially Michael Matus’s vainglorious Peter Quince. For once, Quince doesn’t allow himself to be bullied by Bottom, (Paul Hunter’s weaver is not the strutting presence that we’re used to seeing and is much funnier as the asss) and you get the real impression that this Quince is genuinely in charge. The actual production of Pyramus and Thisbe is certainly one of the rudest productions drawing out all the innuendo in the text – and there’s plenty of it.
There’s plenty to admire in this production. I particularly liked Richard Clews’ authoritarian Egeus, speaking with barely suppressed anger – and then quickly transforming himself to a fairy to play Cobweb – that’s a doubling up of roles you don’t see very often.
Mumby drives the play forward at a cracking pace and the production certainly got an enthusiastic response from the audience. This a Dream made to entertain and it seems that the Globe has a got a real crowd-pleaser on its hands.