Everything about Bottom, as it fell out



LOVERS get down and dirty: Lysander (Luke Thompson), Helena (Sarah Macrae), Demetrius (Joshua Silver) and Hermia (Olivia Ross). Photo by Donald Cooper/Photostage, courtesy

A miasmic tale of darkness and tomfoolery, which ramps amateurism up to the skies and has a denouement that sees everyone in the arms of their rightful lover, Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream is notorious for its complexity, double- and triple role playing and the conflation of real Athenians and faeries in a series of circumstances in which Puck, the wily faun, screws up quite royally. This is the current week’s picking from the Globe Theatre in London, which streams on demand and for free until June 29.

Rumbling with the kind of mischievous malarky of the ilk that you find in a faerie-rotten wood, where anything goes and the biggest faeries are invisible to ordinary folk, the work features the lovely Pearce Quigley — who we saw a few weeks ago as Falstaff — as the dead-panned Bottom: the egotistical artisan and red socked member of an amateur theatre group who by faerie default lands up in the loving embrace of no less than Titania, Queen of the Faeries (Michelle Terry), with an ass’s head upon his shoulders and an ass’s tale emerging from his trousers.

When amateur theatrics – ones which commit every possible sin on stage – meet with ancient magics, almost anything can be released and the loves of Lysander (Luke Thompson) and Hermia (Olivia Ross) and Helena (Sarah Macrae) and Demetrius (Joshua Silver) are merely one sidestep to the play’s complex trajectory. To director Dominic Dromgoole’s credit, the layers and redoubles of this work are handled with a firm clarity.

It is, of course, the amateurish stripe in the work in which the folly is allowed to ramp up all the way and the combination of ‘accident’ and ‘incompetence’ in the discipline of theatre offers brilliant slapstick and clowning where it matters most. The cameo presence of Christopher Logan in the role of ‘Flute’ is one of those theatrical moments where for an instance, you feel transported into a painting by Brueghel, redolent as it is of cross-gender weirdness, cool hats and an understanding of poise and physical humour that just sings and makes you laugh unabated from nuance to nuance.

An odd casting decision, however, sees Matthew Tennyson as Puck. Beautiful in his sylph-like physicality with a couple of horns and a waistcoat of faerie body hair, this young actor is wonderful on the eye, but a tad wooden on the ear, and he feels uncomfortable from the very moment he sets foot onstage. This dulls the effect of some of his rude repartee and blunts what you may think Puckish humour stands for.

But, arguably, there is one group of South African theatre fans for whom the title of this work has memories that can override the delight that even Quigley himself brings onstage here. In 2005, veteran theatre practitioner Dorothy Ann Gould directed this work, with the late Bill Flynn as Bottom, for the Actors’ Centre, based at the then named Tesson Theatre. It was load-shedding season. Half way through the work, the power was gone and pandemonium was threatened by audience members plunged into inky darkness. But the tale was not allowed to end with these patrons grumblingly and haltingly feeling their way back home.

No. Gould was quick to clap her hands and reconvene all the magic onstage, into the garden of the Joburg Theatre. It was a midsummer’s night. And the magic became real, as did the theatrical event become iconic. And while the Globe’s portrayal of this Shakespearean comedy is delightful in its masks and the richness of its articulate insults, and the performances are generally tight and cohesive and you will come away with a grin on your face, if you were amongst that group of people in the dark in Johannesburg in 2005, it’s very unlikely that you will consider this Dream to top that one.

  • Midsummer Night’s Dream is written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Dominic Dromgoole for the Globe Theatre in London, and directed for screen by Robin Lough, it is performed by Huss Garbiya, Tala Gouveia, Tom Lawrence, John Light, Christopher Logan, Molly Logan, Sarah Macrae, Fergal McElherron, Edward Peel, Pearce Quigley, Stephanie Racine, Olivia Ross, Joshua Silver, Michelle Terry, Matthew Tennyson and Luke Thompson, with live music under the direction of George Bartle and also performed by Emily Baines, Arngeir Hauksson, Sarah Humphrys and Nicholas Perry, and creative input by Jonathan Fensom (production design), Claire van Kampen (composer), Siân Williams (choreography), Glynn MacDonald (movement), Martin McKellen (voice and dialect), Lorraine Ebdon-Price (costumes), Megan Cassidy (Wardrobe), Pam Humpage (Hair), Matilda James (casting) and prop makers: Anna Bruder, Emily Hussey and Penny Spedding. It is available on demand for free until June 29 on Shakespeare’s Globe’s youtube channel.

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