A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM @ Pop-up Globe gets 9/10

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
@ Pop-up Globe
Friday, October 11, 2019


As the crowd made its way into the theatre, there was a woman behind us on the phone to her friend. She’d called them just to say that she was about to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream at “The Globe!”, and in Perth of all places. Even with the prospect of rain and an open air venue, there was an insoluble buzz amongst the crowd as we took our places. The 16-sided building is wrapped in the words of old Bill himself, and is a working replica of the one built by Shakespeare and his company back in 1614. At its core, the entire Pop-up Globe project was made to elicit exactly the kind of excitement of the woman on the phone to her friend, and to share the experience of performance at the Globe without the so-many-hours-long flights to London.

The groundlings surged into the yard in translucent rain-ponchos, like cheerful spectres unfazed by the drizzly sky over their heads. The softies took their sheltered seats in the galleries. Then, Pop-up’s Artistic Director Dr Miles Gregory took to the stage. With enthusiasm and a quip about the aptly English weather, he encouraged audience members to take photos and record the show. This is not a show to sit back and idly watch, occasionally stifling a yawn. It’s not about respectfully ‘appreciating’ a classic but about enlivening it and enjoying something “like a party”.

The actors are exceptional, not only in their individual performances, but in how they work with each other. The fey-crossed lovers Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena are hilarious, their love and loathing becoming more farcical with each word of devotion or scorn. When in love they are sweet and adoring, Harry Bradley’s Lysander endearingly saccharine and overeager. Then, in other moments, the four of them are uproariously vicious, drawing the audience in with their verbal sparring. Rebecca Roger’s Hermia was at times delightfully cruel, yet still won the crowd over.

Beneath a great, celestial fresco, the set is gorgeous without being intrusive. Characters enter from doors, trapdoors, or through the audience. The palatial facade becomes a forest, a clearing, a fairy bower, a palace again, a temple – without physically changing. That at one point the grand columns are supposed to be trees, which are in fact playing columns, is all part of the night’s wonderful absurdity. The ragtag team of am-dram tradies, in OHS compliant high-vis vests and hardhats, are endlessly entertaining as they prepare for their oh-so-Shakespearean play within a play and make the whole stage itself into an object of hilarity. Peter Hambleton’s Bottom was, of course, an audience favourite with his oafish charm, over-confidence, and shameless love of the spotlight.

When the fairies, Oberon, Titania and Puck, take to the stage they bring an elemental energy with them. Regal and ageless, or manic and ‘Puck-ish,’ able to be both solemn and chaotic. Perhaps some of the uncanny magic of Puck’s final soliloquy was missing, though he was otherwise well received. The production also draws on Māori traditions and myths for the costume and depiction of the fairies. With dialogue between them conducted almost entirely in te reo, there might have been a danger of losing an audience who don’t know exactly what’s being said. In this instance though, the physical presence and choreography of the actors allowed us to follow easily.

Shakespeare at the Pop-up Globe isn’t sacred, and is made all the better for it. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a joyous thing to be a part of and sent us away enchanted and grinning. Bawdy, bitchy, and bacchanalian, it’s rib-achingly funny and the irreverent Bard at his comic best and most profanely alive.