There was a time when summer didn't seem quite seasonally correct without a version of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' to experience. Set mostly outdoors, this bit of Shakespearian nonsense almost encapsulates the season and the kind of associated madness the title implies. But now that it is perpetual October with miserable temperatures more akin to those of the little ice age, and leaden skies which threaten frequent drenchings, the play doesn't feel quite so summery. And this version from the Globe's artistic director, Dominic Dromgoole, picks-up on the current, dismal state of the climate.
Set in mythical Athens and the woods nearby, this is largely a comedy about love and lovers. The Duke of Athens is about to wed Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons, when the play starts. But four other young lovers give the Duke something to ponder. Hermia loves Lysander, and refuses to obey her father's instructions that she must marry Demetrius. And to make matters more complex and more humorous, Helena is madly in love with Demetrius even though he despises her. The Duke tells Hermia that she must comply with her father's bidding or face death, that leaves her no option but to leave Athens with Lysander and head off to the woods, but they are followed by Helena and Demetrius. Meanwhile, in the depths of the forest, there is trouble between the King and Queen of the Fairies – Oberon and Titania. This conflict gets mixed-up not only with the young lovers from Athens, but also a group of 'rude mechanicals' who are rehearsing a play of dubious merit for the Duke's wedding.
The fairies here are not the dainty, winged variety you might imagine fluttering gracefully between flowers on a hot summer's day. Nor are they the kind that have costumes bearing floral motifs that might have been salvaged from the flower-power era. No, these fairies are more earthy and more animal, and thus more mysterious and a touch scary. Most of them sport animal horns of one kind or another, and some have complete animal heads. Michelle Terry's Titania wears a costume composed of furs of one kind or another (all fake, I am sure!). And John Light's growling Oberon and Matthew Tennyson's boyish and gangly Puck have to brave the chill of the night air bare-chested. Brrr! Rather them than me. But, as I said, the overall effect is harsher and less summery and thus more befitting the current meteorological conditions. And the four young lovers end-up stripped down to their underwear and covered in mud, as they pursue each other through the woods.
Now comedy is hardly a stranger at this venue and this play has plenty of ingredients which provide the laughs. The 'rude mechanicals are the focus for much of the humour and these are a clog-wearing bunch who break into dance at every opportunity. In fact, they indulge in a magnificent clog-dance even before they mutter a single word. Bottom (excellently played by Pearce Quigley) has trouble remembering Peter Quince's name which provides a running gag. In their play about Pyramus and Thisbe, the wall is so huge it can barely fit on the tiny portable stage which Snug the joiner has to repair while the performance is in progress. It's all suitably chaotic and proves very funny.
Overall, there is plenty to enjoy here and relatively little to fault. If I have to be picky, I think Mr Dromgoole could have managed a bit of judicial pruning to reduce the near three-hour running time, especially given the inclusion of numerous dances which add to the duration. And the mechanical's play does rely quite heavily on slapstick, leaving less room for the subtlety which I have seen employed to great effect in some other productions. Nevertheless and in spite of the elements, the audience seemed well-entertained and amused, and in the end that's what counts.
"Compelling and very funny production."
Michael Coveney for The Independent
"The play’s royal and supernatural qualities are both well brought out, but it is the comedy of the mechanicals who announce their arrivals with witty clog dances that are this show’s biggest joy."
Mark Shenton for The Stage
"A warm, comic vision ideally pitched to this performance space. His [Dominic Dromgoole] production bursts with crowd-pleasing gestures."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard