Diarist Samuel Pepys saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream – for the first and last time – in 1662, describing it as the most “ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life” despite “some good dancing and some handsome women”. Centuries later, can the sex-fuelled plot still baffle a contemporary audience?
Emma Rice takes a stab in her first production as artistic director of the Globe. The four beleaguered lovers of A Midsummer Night’s Dream become “Hoxton hipsters”, trailing round a heath with a pop-up tent. Helena becomes the lip-balm wielding Helenus, while the artisan players orbit around sock and sandal-wearing sex god Nick Bottom. Puck is clad in a sort of Tudor leotard, making the usual mischief and assaulting groundlings with bananas.
Despite getting a hard time for wheeling a load of non-regulation lights and glitter balls into the historic theatre, Rice’s inaugural production delivers fantastic value for money, and what it loses in sylvan enchantment, it makes up for in spectacle.
The attention to detail is hugely impressive. Hermia really is “dwarf-like” as the outnumbered female, while Lion’s makeshift mane is made out of yellow Marigolds – so as not to “fright the ladies”.
And the climax – play within a play Pyramus and Thisbe – is brilliantly conceived, surpassed only by the verse that creates it. If you only see this play once, make sure that it's this production.
The Globe | ★★★★☆