“If we shadows have offended, Think but this and all is mended, That you have but slumbered here, while these visions did appear.”
Who else has the absolute cheek and guile to put a disclaimer at the end of his play other than the British wordsmith Shakespeare? The legendary bard may have been dead for over 400 years, but his plays remain just as contemporary, and enjoyable as when they were first written. And so, on a sunny September afternoon I find myself queuing in line, so that I can stand for the next 2 hours and 45 minutes to watch one of his plays at the Globe.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that’s what I am here to see, and one of his most popular. Faeries, lovers, fools, and one long comedy. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse presents the play in their replica of Shakespeare’s Globe, and from the posters we can expect bright colours and merriment.
The play begins with the musicians taking to the stage. Not uncommon for a play at the Globe. Music is almost a character in their performances, bringing the songs of Shakespeare to life with the signature jazzy style of composer James Fortune.
Which works perfectly with what seems to be a Shakespeare meets the Notting Hill Carnival. A vision that is bright, colourful and exciting on the eye. Which seems to be the complete feel of the entire play. There isn’t much depth to director Sean Holme’s production, just pure entertainment and fun.
Which isn’t a bad thing, and keeps the audience laughing throughout, but a slight lack of substance turns about to be a little draining. And you can’t help but wonder if there was a little more depth to be filled in with Shakespeare’s comedy of lovers. It doesn’t have to be anything too big, perhaps just a little more obvious love. The desperation of Hermia and Lysander to marry could perhaps have felt a little more urgent.
At no point did I find myself nervous for the young lovers threatened with death and separation.
Amanda Wilkin breathes new life into the role of Helena, Shakespeare’s lovelorn heroine who spends most the play in pursuit of Demetrius. Rather than pathetically in love, the character takes on a more outlandish and vaguely frightening obsession with Demetrius. Her larger than life character is emotive, sarcastic and commands far less sympathy and far more humour.
Bottom, arguably one of the play’s most memorable characters, is played with the usual pomp and enthusiasm by Jocelyn Jee Esien. The character is just as full of himself as is to be expected and is allowed a fair amount of time to adlib lines. And constantly throwing in modern day references with the Lion King being a consistent one.
One of the most innovative parts of Sean Holme’s production is the casting of an audience member in the role of a mechanical. The audience member is pulled on and off stage whenever needed for a scene and given a small script to read from. The improvisation around them adds to the hilarity. Most particularly when they are required to ride a bike to provide light for the peddle-powered moonlight during the mechanical’s performance of Pyramus and Thisbe.
The costumes, designed by Lydia Hardiman, are wild. With the fairy King and Queen Oberon and Titania, played by Peter Bourke and Victoria Elliot, dressed in yellow, pink, and blue carnival costumes. The rest of the fairies look like aliens created for a CBeebies programme. Which in many ways suits the entire feel of the play, it is a live children’s show for adults.
There are two distinctively clever moments in the play. The first is when Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazon, arrives in a large cardboard box that must be signed for. (An amazon package, get it…) And the casting of Puck. The part of the magical sprite and servant to Oberon is played by the entire cast. A spray-painted t-shirt serves to inform the audience who is playing the character. Helpful, as there is often more than one Puck on stage at a time, and they compete for Oberon’s attention and admiration.
This adds to the magic of the sprite, and a touch of depth, and finishes with the entire cast, all as Puck, offering lines one by one from the epilogue.
Overall a fun day, an easy, bright and joyful Shakespeare production, and well-acted.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Globe Theatre, London, 8 September-13 October.