I love Shakespeare’s Globe. I used to think that watching a performance at the Globe would be akin to watching a Shakespearean play when it was first performed. After doing some research I discovered that all of the female parts would be played by men in drag, the audience would have thrown food onstage if they were bored and the whole place must have stank. So… perhaps I’m better off watching the plays with the benefits of modern life, even if the plays aren’t, necessary, traditional performances.
Two weeks ago I watched A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies and also one of his most controversial plays. In case you didn’t study the play at school, the plot follows four lovers Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena caught in a love square with each other. They flee into the woods the same night that a troop of actors are practising a play for the Duke of Athen’s wedding. Both groups encounter fairies, become bewitched, the lovers fall in love with the wrong partner and one of the actors is turned into a donkey. At the end of the play everything is returned to normal, the lovers marry and the play the actor performs, despite being awful, is met with praise. ( I’m condensing.)
We don’t know when the play was written but experts believe it was first performed in 1595 or 1596. The play may have been written for a special occasion such as the wedding of Lady Berkley or the feast day of St John although this is just speculation. Although the inspiration of the play is unknown it is worth noting that Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale” is often credited as an inspiration and Ovid’s Pyramus and Thisbe (which also serves as a direct inspiration for Romeo and Juliet) is performed within the play. It seems Shakespeare was influenced by the tales of Greek Mythology as the Duke of Athens, Theseus, is same Theseus who slew the minotaur.
Throughout history the play has been praised and criticised for a variety of different reasons based on the cultural tastes of the time. Samuel Pepys described the play as “the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life” while other critics thought that because fairies didn’t exist, they shouldn’t be portrayed in plays. James Halliwell-Phillipps, wrote in the 1840s, that he found many inconsistencies in the play ( I didn’t spot any) but considered it a most beautiful play none the less. Modern audiences are much more forgiving, while other Shakespeare plays such as Much Ado About Nothing and The Taming of the Shrew have failed to age well not, Midsummer is still as popular as ever.
Although every show I’ve seen at Shakespeare’s Globe has been amazing, I think this was one of the best. As the audience took their seats a warm up band played on stage and invited children up to hit a piñata. When the show started the band played in Theseus’ court and assisted the characters by playing romantic music to suit the moment. Due to the wide cast of characters every actor had to take on multiple roles, this meant changing from their human outfit into their fairy outfit, complete with psychedelic colours, within moments.
The best part of the show was Justin. When the troop of actors, called the mechanicals, were rehearsing in their first scene they realised that they were one cast member short. So they picked someone from the audience in the pits (the pits being the standing area before the stage) to join them. My first thought when I realised their plan was Thank God it isn’t me! At the same time… it must be quite exciting to say you’ve done an impromptu performed at Shakespeare’s Globe. The cast members lead him around the stage, spoon fed him his lines and took a selfie with him on stage! I have searched for this selfie online but so far it hasn’t surfaced.
I think that this performance of Midsummer’s Night’s Dream is one of the best performances I’ve seen at Shakespeare’s Globe, on par with Romeo and Juliet. Well done to the cast and crew.
Ten piñatas out of ten!