Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream (Shakespeare's Globe)
Sean Holmes' production returns to reopen the south bank venue
Shakespeare's Globe is a magical place to sit as a warm London evening turns to darkness around you. You'd also think it was the best place to experience post-Covid theatre, yet worries about cancellation costs mean that the audience is sparse (400 down from 1,600) and the actors socially- distanced too as it returns to performance with a revival of Sean Holmes' multi-coloured version of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
This is pantomime Shakespeare, to entertain rather than provoke, and none the worse for that, though it does deliberately sacrifice much of the poetry, complexity and indeed the magic that have made this play endure. Nevertheless, it's good-hearted and full of laughter which are certainly both qualities we all need at the moment.
Jean Chan's designs make you smile just to look at them: multi-coloured Mardi Gras costumes with pointy hats for the fairies and a Bottom (Sophie Russell) who is turned into a donkey-shaped Pinata, covered in bright ribbons. Titania (sweet-faced and gentle in Victoria Elliott's performance) rocks on in glittering crinoline and pink wig like a cheerleader gone wild; Oberon has turquoise hair and what can only be described as feathery yellow frock.
The party mood is sustained by rock classics, blasted out in brass by the Hackney Colliery Band, and props that include bubble guns and a mobile disco, powered by the bashful audience member who has been recruited as one of the rude mechanicals, the workers who perform the play within a play at the end of this tangled web of misunderstandings and jealousies, of love gone awry as well as love fulfilled.
That performance of Pyramus and Thisbe is a triumph and a perfect conclusion to an evening played fast and without an interval (you can nip out if you want, but not many did, so quickly does it pass.) It finds a genuine, unforced humour, with Sophie Russell's Bottom, who has brought a wondering warmth to the entire evening, relishing her moment in the spotlight as Pyramus. George Fouracres who has also been excellent throughout, uses his perfect timing to turn Phisbe into a glorious silly foil, and Jacoba Williams, wide-eyed and serious, provides a comically mimed Wall (she slowly draws her hands across her chest to reveal the word written on it).
Elsewhere, the effects sometimes feel forced. Of the four lovers (cleverly dressed in black and white, with matching ruffs askew) only Shona Babayemi as a fierce and wounded Helena manages to find the feeling underneath the confusions and chaos of love; there's a lot of energy but not much passion from the rest. The decision to split the part of Puck across all the members of the cast is sometimes confusing, though it generates a great sleeping dart joke.
That's the instinct of the entire production, to go for surface humour rather than deeper insight. Yet it seems churlish to complain when the fun is so amiable and real.