“O, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters …”
So said Hamlet to the Players.
It’s tempting to imagine he would have had a blue fit viewing Pop-Up Globe’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is a production in which passions are not only torn to tatters but flung around like confetti.
Staged in a dimensionally-faithful replica of London’s Second Globe Theatre, academic and director Miles Gregory’s production is pantomimic, unrelentingly hammy and retrograde. You’d think the last 30 years of theatre practice (and gender politics, come to think of it) had never happened.
But watched from the pit, among the “groundlings”, it is undeniably effective as an entertainment.
Gregory weaves three worlds together: that of Shakespeare’s Athens, where characters stride about in doublets and declaim to the heavens; that of the forest, where Māori culture and language rules; and that of the Mechanicals, who are rendered here as modern-day tradies in stubbies and hi-vis. All the women in the story are played by men.
The playing is uniformly vigorous with every line sold hard, especially to the pit, which is illuminated in the same light as the stage and after a few minutes becomes noisily involved in the storytelling. It’s a world away from the hushed atmosphere of a conventional theatre – so much so that many in the gallery seats filtered down to the ground level after interval. If you can stand for two and something hours, do.
The other main pleasure of the production is listening to the Bard’s words spoken in te reo.
Gregory takes a calculated risk in alienating those who don’t know the play but even the most basic understanding of what’s going on in the forest should be enough, and actors Jason Te Kare (Oberon), Jade Daniels (Puck) and Asalemo Tofete (Titania) are standouts.
British actors Thomas Wingfield (Helena) and Max Loban (Hermia) develop an unexpectedly warm and immediate relationship with the crowd. The groundling women seemed to adore them on this occasion and were vocal in their appreciation of their plight.
Will Alexander and Patrick Carroll push Lysander and Demetrius to absurd comic heights and the Mechanicals are appealingly realised, led by Chris Huntly-Turner, whose showboating Bottom is actually a bit of an arse.
Sense is sometimes sacrificed to slapstick. But you can’t help be impressed by the cast’s commitment to wringing the maximum from each and every moment.
There are notices pinned to the stage warning groundlings about the potential to be splashed with fake blood. Take them seriously, especially if you have dressed up for the occasion. The climax of the Mechanicals’ Pyramus & Thisbe is messier than a Sam Peckinpah movie and the actors are actively seeking to leave everyone with a gooey red memento of their visit.
If we shadows have offended / send your dry cleaning bill and all is mended …