Alright folks. Stop what you’re doing right now. Right…now…there you go. Congrats you put down the knitting, the political treatise, the politico article, the Buzzfeed quiz, the snapchat (NO you may not snapchat my blog post).
Put them all down and go to this link (after you finish reading this paragraph at least). This is the link to the live-streamed Globe production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is beautiful, it is funny, it is overtly sexual, there is distinctly nudity involved, it is riotous, and it is the best production of Midsummer that I have ever seen. Emma Rice, the new Artisitc Director of the Globe is a gen-i-us, with a capital G.
(FYI: this may be on BBC Iplayer, in which case you’ll need a VPN that can switch your browsing country. My go to is “Hola!”)
I’m not going to give anything away that you couldn’t otherwise glean from the program (should you purchase it for a whopping 5 pounds…then again the ticket was only 5 pounds, so it’s perfectly fine if they over charge for a program in the UK).
This production solves so many problems and perfectly conveys everything. We’re going to take them one at a time.
1. What the HELL (sorry for the language, this blog post has a PG-13 rating, then again, it’s Shakespeare, you should have expected it) is up with Helena? I feel this one particularly because we share the same name. Violating the age-old “sisters before misters” addage, she tattles on Hermia and Lysander to Demeterius, knowing PERFECTLY WELL that he’ll chase them. Why encourage him to pursue the other woman? DON’T tell him, let Hermia and Lysander run away, then he’ll be stuck with you (maybe not the best solution to the problem, nor unproblematic in itself, but certainly a better idea). Then, the first time we see Helena and Demetrius together this happens:
Do I entice you? Do I speak you fair?
Or rather do I not in plainest truth
Tell you I do not nor I cannot love you?
And even for that do I love you the more;
I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius,
The more you beat me, I will fawn on you.
Use me but as your spaniel; spurn me, strike me,
Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave,
Unworthy as I am, to follow you….
Temp not too much the hatred of my spirit,
For I am sick when I do look on thee.
[OUCH! HARSH!] ….
I’ll run from thee, and hide me in the breaks,
And leave thee to the mercy of wild beasts.
Needless to say, this is harsh dialogue to hear, especially now. To have a woman compare
herself to a dog is hard to watch. Emma Rice’s solution? Helena becomes Helenus, “lady” becomes “lover,” and suddenly the story of a love-sick woman chasing her cruel and indifferent lover who grew tired of her the minute a pretty girl walked by is transformed into the story of Demetrius coming to terms with his sexuality, and his cruelty comes from an inner confusion, rather than a deep-seated meanness. This is not to say that it’s okay for a gay man to compare himself to a dog any more than it is for a woman, but it does make Demetrius’ anger and Helenus’ persistence more palatable and understandable. Also, you get some pretty fantastic Beyonce
2. The fairies. What do you do with a fairy that has literally lived since the dawn of time and will continue to live forever? You make them slightly crazy and overly sexual, and everything suddenly gets so much better. Titiania? A cabaret star. Oberon? A jealous and sensitive drunkard. Puck? Puck has sparkly light-up sneakers and a giant ruff, I mean GIANT. Brilliance, pure brilliance.
3. The annoying announcement at the beginning that prevents you from using cell phones. This has always been a bit of annoying theater business. You’re sitting in the dark, all excited for the show, and then some overly soothing voice comes on to remind you that they will personally drag you out of the theater and have you flogged if you even think about violating union laws and filming the production. Or they try to be funny and then it’s just menacing humor as they jokingly bring up having you drawn and quartered. Why not have the cast do it? Many productions have done this. But then its just an actor in costume, or not, telling you the same thing. Why not have a character do it? That’s what Emma does (okay, this is a spoiler alert, but I warned you…also, you could have put it together if you paid attention to the head shots of the actors, so there). Two overly enthusiastic Globe employees pop up on stage to give you an aggressively dramatic reminder which leaves you thinking, “does that woman actually speak that way????” But this confusion caused by the over zealous stewards, as expressed by my dear friend Chloe (see First Week in London, Love At First Sight 2.0), is so perfectly solved. They return three (two?) scenes later as the Rude Mechanicals. So great! So, Emma’s idea was to relocate the action of the play from Athens /Athenian forest to London/Bankside. The lines were altered accordingly–and they maintained the pentameter while doing so, which is key. So the six rude mechanicals become the six Globe employees in their adorably and hilariously terrible attempt to recreate Pyramus and Thisbe. Then, they would transition in between their characters, Flute, Quince, Bottom, etc, and their actual roles and Globe employees, costumes, hair, cleaners, and were also used in transitions. It was all very Shakespearian: Shakespeare more often than not breaks the fourth wall and draws your attention to the fact that you’re watching a play.
4. The Indian baby: No one ever knows what to do with that baby. Do you even have a physical baby? Does it become a young child, played by a young actor? Do you use a baby doll? Let the answer to that one be “deargodno.” Baby dolls, with their weighted lids that inevitably break, leaving the doll staring at you with only one eye, are so very creepy. What did Emma do? A puppet! “A Puppet??!?!?!?” you ask, horrified. Yes, a puppet, in the only successful puppetry I’ve seen–aside from Warhorse, maybe it’s a British thing. The actors were so well coordinated in the manipulation of this puppet, it looked like a real child. Super cool. And you remove the inevitable awkwardness of not having a physical child and the frustrations caused by employing an appropriately aged young actor. And you avoid my aversion to dolls.
5. The whole “India” thing. I’ve seen productions set in the 1960s, productions set in a kind of timeless world with fairies in elizabethan dress and lovers in catholic school uniforms, and productions set in the wilderness of the 1930s. Although the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival production from three years ago was so so funny (the fairies were tripping on acid the whole time), the subtle Indian setting of Emma’s production just WORKED. Now, let me emphasize the subtlety. It was as Indian as London, that is to say, a decently sized twinge of color, music, and cast members. There was a fantastic sitar player accompanying the play and so many colors. And, having a Bollywood influence gave them license to make it a musical adaptation. As the Globe is famous for doing, they brilliantly wrote accompaniment to Shakespeare’s words, turning monologues into amazing dance numbers.
6. The Fairy 1 monologue. Why is it so long? So many words? Not really a speech with a whole lot of action. I’ve seen incredibly successful actors keep me entertained for the whole thing. But I have an unnatural love for Shakespeare, and I know the monologue. But your average viewers are perhaps less enthralled. The solution? Make it a song!!!!!
So, there are many more problems that Midsummer may present, but we’re gonna stick with six so you still have time to devote the next three hours of your life to this wonderful production.
And at the end, I declare Emma Rice’s first production at the Globe a capital-s Success! (Hi Emma, lookin’ at you. I’d like a job. Please and thank you)
Ankur Bahl-Helenus; Margaret Ann Bain-Flute/Philostrate; Nandi Bhebhe-First Fairy/Starveling; Edmund Derrington-Lysander; Tibu Fortes-Fairy; Ncuti Gatwa-Demetrius; Meow Meow-Hippolyta/Titania ; Katy Owen-Puck; Edith Tankus-Snug; Lucy Thackeray-Quince; Alex Tregear-Snout; Zubin Varla-Theseus/Oberon; Anjana Vasan-Hermia; Ewan Wardrop-Bottom.
Crew: Stu Barker-Dulcimer/Harp/ Trombone/Bass/Percussion; Pat Moran-Musical Director/Guitars/Bass/Keyboard; Sheema Mukherjee-Sitar/Clarinet; Jeevan Singh –Tablas/Dholak/Dumbek/Keyboard.
Director :Emma Rice
Dramaturg & Lyricist: Tanika Gupta
Set Designer: Börkur Jónsson
Costume Designer: Moritz Junge
Composer: Stu Barker
Choreographers : Etta Murfitt & Emma Rice
Sound Designer: Simon Baker
Lighting Designers: Victoria Brennan & Malcolm Rippeth
Fight Director: Kate Waters
Puppet Direction: Mark Down, Blind Summit Theatre
Artworks by Dan Hillier