Mark Bibby Jackson reviews a challenging performance of A Midsummer’s Night Dream at the Globe Theatre which manages to stay true to its roots.

Of all Shakespeare’s plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is perhaps the one I have seen the most. It takes a heavy dose of originality and creativity to make me look upon the old play in a new light. Elle While’s interpretation currently performing at the Globe Theatre did precisely this. This is a very contemporary treatment of the Bard’s comedy which still manages to incorporate Elizabethan traits.

Challenging the Audience

A Midsummer’s Night Dream Review
Francesca Mills as Hermia (c. Helen Murray)

The play invites us to ask questions about gender, identity and the nature of beauty, that are extremely relevant today. To achieve this the traditional Shakespearean tradition of casting male actors in female roles has been reversed while the role of Hermia is played by the excellent Francesca Mills.

The audience, which on this matinee performance was full of children in school uniforms – a refreshing sight – gasped twice – once when Hermia is cast to the floor, and the second when her bewitched lover Lysander verbally abuses her for her short stature using the most vile language. It certainly challenges the audience.

But While’s interpretation is not simply a reversal of traditional theatrical roles. The play has an ethereal quality, with a most wonderful soundtrack provide by a five-piece band. The costumes keep faith to the period rather than adopting a more contemporary fashion. In this way, we see a blend of past and present, perhaps pointing the way towards a future.

Michelle Terry as Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream at Shakespeare's Globe (c. Helen Murray)
Michelle Terry as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe (c. Helen Murray)

A Midsummer’s Night Dream Cast

Mariah Gale is excellent as Bottom, although she plays the part in a much less cumbersome manner than is often the way. While Michelle Terry, who is also the Globe’s art director, provides a wispy truculence to the role of Puck, engaging with the audience in a manner that surely would have been the vogue when the plays were first performed.

While the interaction between the four lovers is sharp, I found myself more drawn, as always, to the mechanicals. Rebecca Root brings a Stephen Fry quality to her role as Quince as she commands her troupe. Certainly, I have more sympathy for these characters than for their mocking supposed betters, as always.

However, for me the real winner is The Globe itself. It is a long time since I have attended a play here. To see the theatre so full, with such a youthful audience enjoying and reacting to the play in front of them was a joy to behold.

Jack Laskey as Oberon and Michelle Terry as Puck (c. Helen Murray)
Jack Laskey as Oberon and Michelle Terry as Puck (c. Helen Murray)

Elle While and team have managed to create a contemporary relevance to one on the most classic plays in the English language. As such it is a resounding success, and great fun to boot.

A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare

The Globe Theatre

Runs to 12 August

Tickets and further details can be found here.

All images provided by the Globe Theatre. Main image: The company in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe (c. Helen Murray).