Pop-up Globe, The Entertainment Quarter, Sydney
September 5, 2018

Blood splashes across the groundlings standing in the yard and the crowd roars. The audience at the Pop-up Globe – a recreation of Shakespeare’s second Globe Theatre that has ‘popped up’ in Sydney’s Entertainment Quarter after wildly successful runs in Melbourne and Auckland – has no inhibitions about cheering, booing, clapping and heckling by the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of four productions on rotation at the theatre.

Directed by Dr Miles Gregory, who founded the Pop-up Globe in New Zealand, this production embraces the rawness and spectacle of live theatre with joyous energy, recreating not just the physical theatre – a scale model constructed using scaffolding – but the rough and tumble experience of Shakespeare’s plays (more or less) as they might have been experienced during his lifetime.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Pop-up GlobePop-up Globe’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo: supplied

In a hilarious production that embraces lively audience interaction, Gregory’s Dream relishes in the clashing of the play’s three worlds. The stifling court of Athens (Gregory sets it in the Jacobean world of 1614) – where Duke Theseus (Jason Te Kare) is set to marry Hippolyta (Asalemo Tofete), brought in in chains – sees lovers Hermia (Max Loban) and Lysander (Will Alexander) flee into the woods to escape Hermia’s forced marriage to Demetrius (Patrick Carroll) – who pursues them, himself pursued by Helena (Thomas Wingfield). Meanwhile, a group of modern tradies – decked out in hi vis – are rehearsing a play for the Duke in the same woods, which are also home to the fairy kingdom.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Pop-up GlobePop-up Globe’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo: supplied

This is a Dream played for laughs, and it absolutely succeeds with an orgy of pantomime, contemporary references, music (players double as instrumentalists), dance and ribald humour – Chris Huntly-Turner is particularly potent as the swaggering Bottom. The production is geared more for entertainment than a rigorous interrogation of the text – and indeed clarity is sometimes lost in the melee as lines are not just delivered but flung vigorously across the stage – and the Shakespearean-era penchant to cast men in all the female parts (this only occurs in two of the four Pop-up Globe productions in Sydney) offers comedy without delving any deeper. The characters are played with plenty of heart, however, and on opening night the audience groaned, sighed and cheered them on as appropriate.

Pop-up Globe’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo: supplied

Gregory’s setting of the fairy world in one of Māori folklore is a beautiful touch. Titania (Tofete), Theseus (Te Kare) and a wonderful Jade Daniels as Puck speak te reo Māori, in a new translation by Pierre Lyndon, their performances vivid enough to overcome any language barrier for the audience.

Whether from the (relative) safety of the galleries or in the thick of it with the groundlings, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an absolute blast, offering buckets of laughter and splattering blood. It’s well worth a look – but maybe bring a raincoat.

The Pop-up Globe plays at the Entertainment Quarter, Sydney, until November 4

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