Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream (Shakespeare's Globe)
Sean Holmes directs a new production on the South Bank
There's a lot of dreaming going on in London right now, with a number of productions of Shakespeare's most loved comedy being staged across the capital. Alongside the revivals at Regent's Park and the Bridge Theatre, Sean Holmes helms a third at the Globe, his first show as the venue's new associate artistic director following his departure from the Lyric Hammersmith.
Suffused with a Mardi Gras technicolor mayhem, Holmes and designer Jean Chan certainly go in on the bombastic spectacle, even wheeling a paint-splattered golf cart through the standing audience members in the pit for Titania's arrival. Her fairies look like they've walked straight off the streets of New Orleans, with Lydia Hardiman's costume supervision working wonders.
This is one of the funniest Dreams out there – not only the Mechanicals' scenes (though Jocelyn Jee Esien and Billy Seymour use fake blood in the best way in act five) but also the lover quadrangle passages, which can often be given short shrift amidst all the meta-theatrical capering and fairy warfare. Amanda Wilkin, sidesplitting in Emilia at the same venue last summer, brings a manic and completely endearing energy to Helena that goes beyond her lines, despairing as she has to fawn like a dog for Demetrius' love. Ekow Quartey's Lysander has an awful lot of fun with a blow up mattress.
Esien, following a more sedate ride in Doctor Faustus during the Globe's winter season, lets her comedy chops run riot as Bottom, pompous and self centred, hopping into a hammy French accent and prowling across the stage castigating audiences with withering looks. It does mean that, unlike the Bridge's outing, the roles of Oberon and Titania are a little bit overshadowed, while Egeus feels more like a benign poser than an actual ruling monarch.
Holmes deftly treads the line between finding the innate humour in Shakespeare's writing and, where it works, putting a contemporary spin on things. There are some neat minings of the text – the role of Puck is divided between the ensemble, leading to one of the most novel renditions imaginable of the play's closing monologue, while a heavy dose of audience interaction also brings a sense of unpredictability to proceedings. Shock horror for any purists out there, in act five there's even a microphone.
The party atmosphere begins well before the show kicks off and continues into the night, with the Hackney Colliery Band (featuring new music by Jim Fortune) taking to the stage to get audiences suitably hyped. It's fair to say that amidst the carnivalesque atmosphere some of the play's darker moments are glossed over, but it's a necessary trade off to let the humour soar and the audience enthralled. Forget Love Island, if you want a romantic romp in the sunshine then this is a midsummer treat and no mistake.