She was lowered down from the ceiling, all skirt ruffles and tights, feet gently pedalling, “they usually clap at this point” she said wryly and we, the obedient and entranced audience applauded with gusto.
An actress with the unlikely name of Meow Meow, was playing the roles of Titania and Hippolyta at The Globe on Saturday, when we went to see a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I suspect that for a Shakespeare purist the production might have been rather shocking with its racy modern interpretation. However, for a keen but not very knowledgeable member of the audience such as myself, the production was a joy. It was about 20 minutes too long (isn’t everything?) but other than that, it was highly entertaining.
There were some parts traditionally played by women which were played by men and vice versa. Peter Quince became Rita Quince, who played the part as a sort of keen girl guide leader, ready with her clipboard and very hearty in her instructions. She was part of the crew on stage as the audience settled in. She announced information about no mobile phones, no filming and no sitting (for the groundlings standing around the foot of the stage). She morphed easily into Rita Quince and the gender swap was painless and easy to reconcile.
The second change from the traditional cast, was that Helena became Helenus, a gay young man who falls in love and is in turned loved. This piece of original casting, with a man instead of a woman, as Hermia’s friend, made it much simpler to understand the plot. Helenus and his loves were easy to follow and easy to separate from the heterosexual partners in the mix. You know Shakespeare, always game for a French farce of people mistaking others for someone else, kissing the wrong person and ending up with the wrong partner. No question of course, that this is always remedied in the end and we can breathe a collective sigh of relief as the correct pairings end up together.
Puck although traditionally a male role, was played by a young woman, Katy Owen and she was full of zest and energy. Her interaction with the audience and in particular the groundlings was a joy to watch. With each speech she turned to all four corners of the auditorium and caught the eye of every member of the audience. Then, in amongst those standing (three hours in total, stronger souls than me!) she addressed individuals, grinning from ear to ear as she tempted them to join in her mischief-making, gently poking fun at us all. Her drive and vitality made the role her own; her childish jokes made us laugh and her pointed sense of humour kept us on our toes.
Aside from the gender-bending roles, one of the other remarkable elements were the nods to modern life, included at every occasion, which brought the text to life and made us remember our own contemporary context. The young people were referred to as ‘Hoxton hipsters’ on several occasions; when an ‘almanac’ had to be consulted for phases of the moon, a mobile phone was produced and then put away ‘you know the rules, no phones’. There was a Bollywood style dance sequence and another based on Beyonce’s Put a Ring on it, as well as other references to modern music, which went straight over my head. The music itself, played from the balcony was full of original settings of the familiar Shakespearean text and gave the cast an extra dimension to their acting, singing and dancing throughout the piece.
This exuberant production of The Dream meant that I wasn’t sitting trying to work out what the text meant, as I could see it acted out clearly in front of me. It took out the hard work and offered me the play on a plate and I appreciated their efforts and the play all the more for that.