Shakespeare’s Globe, London (****)
`Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment’ takes on fresh meaning in Emma Rice’s delicious debut production as the Globe’s new artistic director.
Taking liberties fast and furious but ultimately triumphantly, Zubin Varla’s Oberon and Meow Meow’s Titania, hovering between heaven and earth, lullaby us into the night with a rendering of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 that sums up the thrust of Rice’s production with exquisite aptness and affection. For Rice has over-turned tradition in opting for a male Helena (Ankur Bahl’s funny, ironic Helenus) who finally gets his man, Demetrius (Ncuti Gatwa).
Rice’s Dream positively hums with broad, good humour – some would say overly so initially; every exit has its bottom clincher, it seems – but such is its warmth and spontaneity that come the second half, everything Rice has set in place, from Stu Barker’s glorious, Indian themed music to the all women mechanicals gleaned from a group of volunteers similar to those who actually staff the Globe, reaps huge rewards.
Never were the Pyramus and Thisbe scenes so inventively hilarious or the lovers’ confusion in the forest so contemporary. For with the added alteration of Helena as male, lines acquire unexpected pathos and humour.
At every point, this is a Dream, as once was Peter Brook’s circus Dream, that breaks convention with subversive, pantomimic glee whilst absolutely capturing the spirit of our ever-changing times.
Rice has written this production is her love letter to the Globe and though initially some of the Bard’s most poetic pastoral lines go abegging, she has Zubin Varla on hand as Oberon to draw out the best of its lyric magic.
His experience sits perfectly in the rich gallimaufry of talents Rice has assembled, many from her Cornish Kneehigh company, whose capacity to turn a moment of nothing into a delight of ridiculousness is legendary.
In Rice’s make-over Globe with its forest of balloons, additional lighting and twinkling lights, it’s also the clearest in diction I’ve ever heard.
Whether Rice’s style will suit the rest of the repertoire remains to be seen. But as the roars of approval confirmed, she’s off to a cracking start.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at the Shakespeare’s Globe to Sept 11, 2016
Review first published in Reviewsgate, May 2016