Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s Globe

“I shall do thee mischief in the wood”

It’s taken me a while to get around to the Globe this year – their Tempest was fine but not particularly inspired and so my enthusiasm for booking for Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream waned. But the thought of missing Michelle Terry was not one I was prepared to countenance and taking a chance on an Indian summer, I booked for a random Friday matinée for the latter, hoping that the rain would hold off. Fortunately it did and with perhaps my lower expectations, I was entirely dazzled by Dominic Dromgoole’s production of what is one of my favourite of Shakespeare’s plays, which cast the newly opened Michael Grandage adaptation firmly in the shade.

Pleasingly, especially for someone who knows the play quite well, the production abounds in new textures and fresh insight into characters, relationships and events. I loved the early establishment of the former relationship between Joshua Silver’s Demetrius and Sarah MacRae’s Helena and their definite lingering attraction – I’ve never heard the beginning of “ohhh spite” loaded with such meaning – which makes their conclusion much more dramatically satisfying. Puck as a posh stroppy teenager is an inspired choice with Matthew Tennyson’s angular presence; the way in which Pearce Quigley’s Bottom has to be coaxed into accepting Titania’s advances makes perfect sense; the Rude Mechanicals’ play being unrehearsed chaos is entirely appropriate and of course, downright hilarious. 

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Review: Blue Stockings, Shakespeare’s Globe

“The only thing a woman can own is knowledge”

The experience of a groundling at the Globe can range from the sublime (Eve Best clasping your hand) to the ridiculous (standing for two and a half hour in the pouring rain) yet it is a unique kind of experience that always keeps me coming back for more. At £5 a ticket, it is the bargainous type of risk that is worth taking and with plays like Jessica Swale’s Blue Stockings, the dividends it pays forth make up for the sheer sogginess of the journey home. Swale is perhaps best known as a director, particularly for her inimitable takes on Restoration comedies but also for striking contemporary work of devastating precision but she now returns to Shakespeare’s Globe, where she directed 2010’s Bedlam, as a playwright with this, her first play. 

The play is set in 1896 in Girton College, Cambridge which 20 years prior, became the first college in Britain to admit women. But though they can study, they are denied the right to graduate, their time at university leaving them with little but the stigma of being a “blue stocking”, a woman whose education was deemed unnatural and thus leaving her unmarriageable. Swale explores the year their right to graduate was finally put to the vote, following a group of four students as they are introduced to the novelties of university life, albeit segregated and belittled by the vast majority, where taking exams has to compete with the richer pleasures that a modicum of independence brings.  Continue reading “Review: Blue Stockings, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Richmond Theatre

“That seeming to be most which we indeed least are”

Despite being one of Shakespeare’s more notorious plays, The Taming of the Shrew has enjoyed a long and varied performance history as productions seek to try to present this difficult tale of female subservience in a way that is acceptable to audiences. It has proved trickier though in modern times to square the misogynistic circle and so directors often find themselves upping the innovative ante to unearth interpretations which will prove satisfyingly revelatory. What this often means in practice though is that a high concept is adopted which offers insight into part of the story whilst the rest is left straining to fit in. Lucy Bailey is the latest to try and tame the Shrew here for the RSC in a production which has played a season in Stratford and is now on a short tour of the UK, currently here in Richmond.

The angle that she chooses to focus on is the Induction, the framing device that sets the story in its context – this is all just a performance being put on by a rowdy bunch of friends to delude the drunken fool Christopher Sly. Sly – a bumptious revealing turn from Nick Holder – is kept on stage throughout most of the first half and in some ways, this almost convinces us that what we are watching is but a drunken fantasy. But he is gradually phased out of the show, and so the apparent importance of being reminded that this isn’t real is stripped away and the second half played largely straight as a story that suddenly is to be taken more seriously. Continue reading “Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Richmond Theatre”