A Midsummer Night’s Dream was the first production to open at the Globe this summer, Emma Rice’s flagship production that seemed to make a statement about what sort of place the Globe would be under her tenure. As things happened, I didn’t end up seeing this until August, as it had sold out for several weeks prior, which bodes well for the success of the new regime.
I was rather excited about seeing this Dream, having heard so many good things about it, including a good report from a colleague who had been nervous about the theatre’s new direction but who came into the office full of praise for the production. I didn’t blink an eye at the giant balloons dotted about, but the modern sound system and microphones made me feel a bit more uncomfortable.
I did like the mechanicals, dressed as Globe stewards, reminding us of the theatre’s ground rules and getting the crowd on side straight away. I also liked the decision to change Helena into Helenus, which added a new dimension to the character’s relationships with Hermia, Demetrius and Lysander. In fact, all of the central quartet were great and I enjoyed the play most when they were on stage.
Overall, I was rather bored with the production. This was a reaction I had not expected to have. I was prepared for the fact that I might not like it, but not for actual boredom. When I asked an usher, during the interval, what time it was due to finish and he said half past ten, I could feel my heart sinking. Standing for three hours at the Globe has always been a bit of a challenge, but I’d never before seen it as a chore.
Why? Perhaps because there were too many songs: I just wanted the characters to get on with it. The fairy queen (cabaret star Meow Meow) and her kingly consort were good but didn’t grab my attention enough. The changes that had been made to the text grated on me, too. A couple of changes in a production can be witty and clever, but the sheer number here suggested to me that Rice doesn’t have enough confidence in Shakespeare’s language, slightly worrying when she is supposed to be running his theatre.
The biggest issue for me was the lighting: there is now proper theatrical lighting in the theatre, which I noticed in this production more than in the other two I saw this summer, probably because the nights are starting to draw in. The audience connection was always the best thing about the Globe, but here towards the end of the evening the pit was shrouded in darkness and despite the best efforts of Puck to engage with the groundlings, I remained unmoved.
I do worry that the Globe isn’t going to be special any more. I can’t imagine a day like the one I spent standing in the pit all day for the Henry VI trilogy, refusing to leave even as the rain poured down. Maybe I’m being too hasty. Emma Rice’s tenure promises many great things: relaxed performances, signed performances, a more equal balance of men and women on stage, but the actual productions so far have left me cold.