The last Dream to touch down at the Globe was the Yohangza theatre company's deliciously redefined Korean production: Puck was transmogrified into a double-act, and, instead of Titania getting down and dirty with Bottom, we watched a lecherous Oberon canoodle with a woman who turns into a pig. This year's homegrown version, with artistic director Dominic Dromgoole in charge, goes back to Elizabethan basics. Although it's not lacking in ideas and is blessed with an enthusiastic young cast, it never quite breaks fresh ground.

Things open promisingly, with a silent masque reminding us that there's nothing innocent about the love battles we're about to witness. And when the play proper begins, it's with an electrifying opening scene in which the script's patriarchal tensions are played to the full. When Edward Peel's bullying Egeus suggests that his daughter should face the death penalty rather than bend to his will, it provokes a genuine intake of breath. A crotchety Theseus and Hippolyta can't even resolve their own differences, never mind anyone else's.

When the action moves to the forest, there's a nice whiff of danger: this is a world of bellowing hunters and fairies as prowling, sharp-horned stags, where one wrong turn is liable to offer a nasty surprise (sometimes literally: the branches strewn liberally over the stage by designer Jonathan Fensom present something of a trip hazard).

But it's also in the wood that the production loses its way, and its focus. I believed less and less in the relationships between the lovers, and where Shakespeare is careful to hint at the symmetries between his mortal and spirit worlds, too often here the characterisation is skimpy. It's not just Bottom and his colleagues who seem to be doing a different show to everyone else.

There are good performances on display: Michelle Terry's Hippolyta/Titania is magnificently imperious (in falling out of love with John Light's Theseus/Oberon she simply swaps one overbearing ass for another), and Pearce Quigley brings a caustic Lancastrian lugubriousness to Bottom, departing in a memorable hissy fit during rehearsals, suitcase in hand.

But that suitcase is part of the problem. Dromgoole and his cast can't resist embroidering the text with any number of off-script sight gags, a habit that grows increasingly wearying as they drift closer to the three-hour mark; and where Shakespeare's comedy is interwoven with pathos, here the actors are forever fishing in their codpieces for knob jokes, or telegraphing lines so zealously you wonder if they're trying to attract passing helicopters. The play's calamitous high point, the play-within-a-play of Pyramus and Thisbe (offered as "Thyramus and Piss-be") is so effortful that it left me, I'm afraid, largely cold.


Andrew Dickson

The GuardianTramp

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