A Midsummer Night's Dream

William Shakespeare
Shakespeare's Globe
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
to

There is a blaze of colourful costumes, knockabout comedy, jazz music and a volunteer cyclist from the audience in A Midsummer Night's Dream directed by Sean Holmes. But there is no connecting theme or serious engagement with the social ideas in the play.

And that is despite the promise of the first scene, which gave us Hippolita (Victoria Elliott) as a bound and gagged prisoner of war, compelled to marry Theseus (Peter Bourke). It could have added weight to the play's other instances of injustice against women, such as the threat Theseus makes in the same scene to execute Hermia (Faith Omole) if she doesn’t marry the man her father has chosen for her.

But there is no follow through on that brutal opening, either in the character of Hippolita or in any attempt to explore the way women are treated.

Instead, there is the lively search for laughs, whether that is having almost the entire cast play Puck, mobilising one of the audience to play the mechanical Starveling and asking everyone to join in part of the singing. And of course there is the old pantomime trick of getting the audience to see some risqué sexual implication in an innocent scene.

The engaging cast includes Ekow Quartey as a soul singing charmer Lysander and Jocelyn Jee Esien as a quick-talking Bottom.

Amanda Wilkin as Helena often gives a passionate sensitivity to the meaning of the language, though even she can’t resist joining in the knockabout fun, including barking like a dog and rolling round on the floor in a sexual threesome with Lysander and Demetrius.

Music threads its way through the show, from the opening buoyant sounds of the Hackney Colliery Band, to the lullaby for Bottom and the fairy Queen who are resting in a recycling bin and on to the four actors cavorting across the stage in a lion's costume singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. The show finishes with everyone joining in the Housemartins' “Caravan of Love”.

It all looks like a patchwork quilt of fun with no overarching theme or serious engagement with the ideas that made Shakespeare important, but the audience laughed and that counts for something.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna