Siobhan Redmond and, even more, Tom Mannion are actors I would be happy to hear reciting the Athenian telephone directory. As the duke and his duchess, they speak in clipped RP, but, playing the king and queen of the fairies, they revert to the tones of heath and glen. The Scottish accent intensifies Mannion's sensual, brooding anger as Oberon, and the storm it conjures understandably sends Redmond's Titania into first a feline rage, then, in her coup de foudre for the donkey-fied Bottom, a delirious swoon. Her enchantment comes across as a goofy, upper-class boho's rapture with her latest bit of rough.
Oliver Boot, a genuinely virile Demetrius, has a comically scowling manner that easily slides into a comically besotted one when he falls for Laura Rogers' Helena. It's hard to imagine why he went off her in the first place, since this blonde actress is a real dish, with a refined comedy style that hovers between expressing vulnerability and guying it.
Otherwise, however, Jonathan Munby's production, with designs by Mike Britton, is decidedly lacking in magic. The music is a mishmash (Benny Goodman and countertenor song), the dance clumsy (fairies galumphing around, stomping unfairy-like feet). Noble and magical beings alike are made to look inane by repeated games of pat-a-cake. The fairy wood is a harsh contrast of cobalt backcloth and hideous black-and-fuchsia flowers, where Titania's poppy couch is more like a monstrous tomato and the large and gawky fairies like art students in corsets and droopy tutus. Puck, with screaming-turquoise hair and trousers, is the least unearthly of all, wheezing and staggering through his round-the-world flight, and mocking his own lines – it's bizarre to have a Puck who rivals Bottom in heartiness and low comedy.
The ass in question is Paul Hunter, whose own comedy, for all its busy-ness, is not big enough, and whose death scene, in Pyramus and Thisby, is as tiresome as it is interminable. (The costumes – white tights and shirts – made me think the mechanicals were going to put on Marat/Sade.) The benevolence of the ending is well conveyed, however, by the way Mannion, frigid and severe in the early scenes, becomes jolly in spite of himself. And, though I hate anachronistic gags, I laughed when the actor playing Moon got fed up with being heckled and chucked his dog at the duke. An artist, after all, can only take so much.
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