I defy anyone to enter Shakespeare’s Globe and not experience a sense of wonder, tradition and dramatic energy. As I sit down on my wooden bench in the middle gallery and gaze around the circular, tiered auditorium, I am overcome with a sense of history, gravity, and anticipation. And this anticipation warranted, as Emma Rice’s interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is all one could wish for – and more – in a night at the Globe.
The Globe’s current version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a mystical concoction of theatrical features, both antiquated and contemporary. Whilst Shakespeare traditionalists are reassured by the timeless plot and Shakespeare’s ingenious text remaining the central focus of the play, with Rice as Director, the production is brimming with inventive adaptations and cultural references. The characters often break out into popular songs including Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies‘ and Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’. Scenes are accompanied by an eclectic mix of live music ranging from Bollywood to rock, smooth jazz to Charleston. Hermia and Lysander desperately try to surpress their carnal urges, Titania’s fairies are reminiscent of Adam Ant’s backing dancers and a play for the Duke’s wedding is being organised by a motley crew of “Globe volunteers.” These oxymoronic components sound insanely disparate on paper, however they blend together perfectly onstage to create an anachronistic microcosmic world that is both relatable and hilariously paranormal.
The most notable of Rice’s modification is the portrayal of Helena by male actor Ankur Bahl. This enables the creation of a comical and endearing homosexual relationship between the newly branded “Helenus” and Demetrius, which feels relevant and reflective of contemporary society.
Rice’s directorial genius would not be fulfilled without the brilliance of the cast that bring her creative vision to life. What strikes one most about this company is their adaptability as they effortlessly execute various disciplines onstage. There are energetic dance routines taking inspiration from Bollywood and African styles (choreographed by Etta Murfitt), actors play instruments amidst the action and Titania and Oberon conclude the play with a graceful aerial display. However, despite the comic, dramatic and multitalented nature of the entire cast, Katy Owen’s performance as Puck steals the show. Owen, dressed in flashing trainers, a ruff and equipped with a fluorescent water pistol, bounces around the stage like a punk-esque bandit. Not merely embracing her character through the lines she delivers, Owen embodies “that merry wanderer of the night” to perfection, twitching and bouncing around excitedly, intelligently developing mannerisms and idiosyncrasies.
It’s wild. It’s wacky. It’s outrageous. It’s a triumph. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is many people’s favourite Shakespearian Comedy, and it can be challenging to confront producing a play of its popularity. However, The Globe tackles the task effortlessly, creating a production that is full of colour, humour and magic, which imparts to the audience a rejuvenating lust for life.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing Shakespeare’s Globe until 11 September 2016. For more information see The Globe Theatre website.