Proving that she’s as good an essayist as she is brilliant an actress, Michelle Terry discusses the role of Hippolyta, Theseus’ bride and Amazonian queen, in the programme, suggesting that her mere presence disrupts the patriarchal law of Athens in Shakespeare’s imperishable comedy of love, marriage and fornication in the forest.
So it is in her performance. She and a devilish, debonair John Light, as Hippolyta and Theseus, uncover their “other” selves as Titania and Oberon, their own fairy counterparts, in Dominic Dromgoole’s compelling and very funny production.
This doubling up is nothing new, but is given fresh impetus in a design (by Jonathan Fensom) that mixes the Elizabethan court in a forest of desires and dreams, stripping the four lovers to their mud-smeared undergarments in an undergrowth of bracken and broken branches.
Terry’s Titania is sleeping spread-eagled on a vertical bower when the mechanicals assemble for their rehearsal, awakening to the sight of a braying donkey whose shape – I’m not quite sure what Terry does with her hands at this point, but it’s not family viewing – enthrals her.
It’s as if the irruption of amateur theatricals has unleashed the inner fantasist; but of course it’s the drugs kicking in. And these are dispensed with a mixture of vengeance and carelessness by Oberon and his fairy messenger, Puck, whom the ethereal, almost farcically fey Matthew Tennyson plays as a dangerous innocent in a stencilled hairy torso, cruelly oblivious to the mayhem he’s caused.
The mechanicals are not often as hilarious as they are here, led by Pearce Quigley’s Yorkshire grump of a seen-it-all Bottom who can’t quite remember Peter Quince’s name, nor that of the play (“Pyramus and …Thingy”).
They convene in a terrific clog dance (music by Claire van Kampen, choreography by Siân Williams) that reverses the usual Globe procedure of sending the audience out on a hoe-down high: the actors get their retaliation in first, and a huge ovation, before they’ve uttered a word: “Is all our company met?”
The play scene is a riot, Snug the joiner (Edward Peel) vainly attempting running repairs to a recalcitrant plank and the poor old “Wall” departing, flattened, inside what looks like a giant soggy Shredded Wheat.
The four lovers are musically well contrasted, Luke Thompson a stand-out silly ass Lysander, though I wish Dromgoole had taken the interval before their quarrel scene; the first half is a bladder-busting ninety-minute plus.
To 12 October (020 7401 9919)