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‘It’s all delightfully over the top’: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM – Shakespeare’s Globe ★★★★

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Shakespeare’s Globe, London – until 30 October 2021

Face it, this play’s a rom-com, a lark, a happy pretty way to blame the fickleness of young love on petulant fairies. It can be treated more solemnly, playing up the harshness of the Athenian court; or Helena, thinking herself mocked, can rise to something near tragedy; Oberon can be made maliciously, controllingly and humiliatingly sexist or – in the glorious Bridge production – cheekily flipped to become the victim of the trick himself.

But no need for any of that: perfectly valid to capitalise on the Globe’s natural festival jollity, festoon the forest with hippie-morris-clown trees of rags in every colour plus neon, and accompany it with a riotous brass ensemble, taking care to get them rousing up the audience beforehand with cries of “We’re back!” and enforced synchro-clapping rhythm exercises.  Joyful it was, indeed, so that by the time the beginners are wheeled on in a big delivery box (very topical) we’re all up for a couple of hours of hard-sitting fun (no cushions owing to Covid, take your own).

The costumes from this 2019 production return exuberant (though the young lovers are in monochrome, with weird lopsided semi-ruffs, Demetrius looking as if recently assaulted by a swan). Mostly it’s all delightfully over the top and down the other side, sartorially speaking: a pink-satin Duke, Peter Quince in sparkly high boots, Bottom in shiny leopardprint leggings even before she is transformed into a giant pinata donkey (Sophie Russell is terrific, fearlessly authoritative).

The rude-mechanicals are great fun altogether, not least in casting an audience member into their number and forcing him onto a gold exercise-bike. Puck is multiple, clearly being a team of intern-pucks dashing around in T-shirts. Titania, her flowery bed a giant wheelie-bin, is crinolined and feathered; Oberon in his greenish hair and gold aureole surprisingly stately. Those two costumes made me realise that what I really want in life is this play done – as a musical – with Dolly Parton and Elton John as the fairy monarchs.

But for now, Sean Holmes’ cheerful romp will do to kick off a season which, if theatres know what they’re doing, will major on merriment not ‘issues’. Peter Bourke’s Oberon is the one who sticks in my mind: he catches some real Shakespearian nobility in his reproof of Puck’s mistake and in his final reconciliation. I’m all for exuberant youth, but sometimes an old-stager beautifully spoken and poised, is a treat. Looking him up, I learn that 50 years ago Bourke was Puck himself at drama school. He has a memoir about to be published. Which I am searching out now.

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Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.
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Libby Purves on RssLibby Purves on Twitter
Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.

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