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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
at Shakespeare's Globe

FERAL FAIRYLAND
By SAM MARLOWE

  Michelle Terry/ Ph: John Haynes

Fur, feathers, mud and bulging cod-pieces – Dominic Dromgoole’s production of the Shakespearean summer favourite is a vigorously lusty affair. There are no pretty, diaphanous fairies here; rather, there are prancing, punky creatures, some in animal masks with horns or silky ears, others sporting sprouting Mohican hairstyles, all streaked in dirt and ready, with a caper and a cackle, for mischief. It’s a seductively potent setting for the woodland trials of the four amorously entangled Athenian lovers – and for some bracing power play between royal couples, both in the moral world and in fairyland.
 
As is often the tradition, the roles of the Duke of Athens, Theseus and his betrothed, Hippolyta, are doubled here with those of their supernatural counterparts, fairy king and queen Oberon and Titania. The tensions between the former pair are not just mirrored, but distorted and magnified in the fantastical tussles of the latter – an erotically charged process and one that, the production implies, in introducing each to the animal essence of the other, is essential to their future happiness together.
 
During the early hunting party, Michelle Terry’s Hippolyta and John Light’s Theseus are dangerously at odds. For this betrothed couple, it’s a scene of violent wooing; long bows are brandished, women are carried off like slaughtered does, and when the virile, muscular Light wins the competition of marksmanship and forces his bride-to-be into a position of submission, her fury – at this defeat, and at her impending martial servitude – blazes. Once in the forest, that rage explodes in the dispute over the Indian boy; and there’s a sadistic quality in the tricks Oberon, aided by Matthew Tennyson’s lean, witty, Pan-like Puck, plays with his beloved’s loins and heart.
 
The quartet of lovers, too, are an exuberant pleasure – Sarah MacRae’s sweet, schoolgirlish Helena a contrast to the more sultry and assured charms of Olivia Ross’ Hermia. Their passions, pursuits, flights and confusions are orchestrated with exemplary slickness and an abundance of delicious physical comedy. Lysander (Luke Thompson), his eyes enchanted by Oberon’s love-juice, performs an ecstatic backflip on awakening and spying the bewildered MacRae; and more than once, the two women become the wriggling filling in a human sandwich, trapped between the sweaty bodies of Thompson and Joshua Silver’s Demetrius, while Light’s irrepressible Oberon, who has straddled a pillar to watch from above, executes a series of pelvic thrusts in priapic delight.
 
Nor do the Mechanicals disappoint, presented here as a band of clog-dancing Northern tradesmen led by Fergal McElherron’s anxious, affable Peter Quince and Pearce Quigly’s lanky, laconic, bearded Bottom. Prone to an occasional artistic strop in rehearsals, this Bottom cannot believe his luck when invited to Titania’s flowery bed and has the consideration to test his breath – a tricky business, given his hairy ass’s nostrils – before the pair gets seriously amorous. And the final "Pyramus and Thisbe" performance is a joy, with Starveling (Huss Garbiya) distracted by grief at the unexpected death of his dog, whose corpse he insists on carting about with him; Flute (Christopher Logan) playing Thisbe with grotesque makeup and grande dame attitude worthy of Bette Davies in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?; and Quigley dominating the troupe’s tiny stage with his romantic antics, and repeatedly smashing his foot through its flimsy boards. This is the kind of show at which the Globe excels: vivid, pacy, colourful, bursting with alacrity and energy. A summertime treat, whatever the weather.

 


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