A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
Lord what fools these mortals be !
Magnificently directed by Nicholas Hytner and filmed and performed at the Bridge Theatre London, in some ways this is a rather radical re-working of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM , brilliantly done and hugely enjoyed by the live audience and those who catch the screen version.
It is immersive and interactive as those audience members in the ‘pit’ become part of the action and have to move around (yes like the ‘groundlings’ at the Globe).The cast at times interact with and/or enter through/move through the audience . The fairies are spectacular and there are lots of aerial acrobatics . The accompanying score includes Beyoncé and Dizzee Rascal.
While a huge chunk of it is warm and hilarious, there are also darker undertones. There are influences of Atwell’s The Handmaid’s Tale and also the legendary Peter Brook ‘white box’ production.
The chilly, stark , opening scenes are set in Athens with triumphant ,domineering Theseus , ( Oliver Chris) taunting captive Hippolyta (Gwendoline Christie – yes of Game Of Thrones – ) who is trapped in a glass cage.Athens is presented as a sombre, repressive, patriarchal society with the women in austere dresses and headscarves ,the men in black .
All changes ,though , in the mysterious forest , where the inhabitants are glittering and colourful. It is naughty, irreverent sexy and much fun.
The set design has many levels and layers with sections rising up and down .There are plenty of beds, some decorated as if representing a bower.
A major feature of this production is that it turns the ‘traditional’ expectations and presentations on its head – as is usual , the actors portraying Theseus and Hippolyta transform into the fairy queen and king, but here Titania has the lines normally assigned to Oberon while Oberon speaks hers – so it is Titania that is in control of the fairy world and we see Oberon fall in love with Bottom .
As Titania , resetting the gender and fairy world dynamics ,Christie is tall, statuesque and commanding in green .She is resplendent and gracious.
Oliver Chris’ Oberon is at times deliciously funny. From a charismatic macho hippie he becomes a jumpy divo.There are enchanting moments of hesitation, doubt and sensitivity. There is warm chemistry and longing between Oberon & Bottom .Chris is perhaps at his most grandiose emerging from the raunchy his- and -his bubble bath with just a few wisps of foam as covering. Later ,when recovered from the drug of the magic flower , he reveals a more thoughtful side.
David Moorst is a remarkable punk, playful somewhat obstreperous high-wire Puck in ripped jeans and top, rainbow armbands and tattoos, who interacts with the audience as freely as with the immortals. As he is suspended from the ceiling, he has flowers between his toes and delivers some of his lines while hanging upside down.
Puck and Titania collude so that the quartet of mortal lovers consider each other, although fleetingly, as possible partners. Our quartet of mortal lovers was tremendously played.As Hermia , Isis Hainsworth is blazing and defiant, rapturously in love with Lysander and determined to marry him , breaking out of her repressive world and father’s control. As Helena, blonde Tessa Bonham Jones desperately loves Demetrius (Paul Adeyefa ) and eventually gives Hermia as good as she gets . Guitar bearing Lysander Kit Young is terrific .By the end of the play their whole world has changed.
Hammed Animashaun is a suitably brash, self confident, bragging Bottom , rather stunned to find himself Oberon’s toy boy. Rather arrogant eagerness is contrasted with reticence.
The Mechanicals are of both genders led by Felicity Montagu as a benevolent Quince and Bottom. In the Pyramus and Thisbe court performance they wear team purple shirts and trackpants and are presented as somewhat naive. They hastily borrow an audience member’s mobile to ascertain whether they will be moonshine on the night of their performance (a calendar! a calendar!) and take an impudent photo.
This production might perhaps startle traditionalists, challenging our expectations , but the audience adored it.
Running time – allow 3& ½ hours including interval
The NT Live screening of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM is at selected cinemas from 9 November 2019