A Midsummer Night’s Dream – The Bridge Theatre

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Admittedly, I am a novice when it comes to Shakespeare but even my untrained eye could comprehend some of the palpable brilliance of Nicholas Hytner’s latest production of Shakespeare’s classic comedy, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. For three hours, I remained engrossed in what was a thoroughly entertaining, and, at points, thought-provoking performance.

Hytner begins his play in a Gilead-esque patriarchal society, in which the inferiority of a woman is clearly demonstrated. However, the chilling oppression visible in this opening only makes the contrast to the later scenes in the forest more marked, which are ultimately the scenes that make this play so impressive.

Perhaps this is due to my ignorance of Shakespeare, but sometimes I walk away from a performance of his work intellectually stimulated but also relieved its over. No matter how timeless Shakespeare’s themes may be, what audiences enjoy changes from generation to generation. Therefore, what an Elizabethan audience found hilarious back in the 1590s is, to a large extent, no longer so funny in the 2010s. Indeed, there is the old saying: each century produces its own [insert Shakespearean play]. I would go as far to say that this must be a contender for at least this decade’s, perhaps this century’s, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.

The genius of Hytner and his crew is that they manage to maintain the original themes and story of Shakespeare’s play and re-engineer it sufficiently to retain its essence, comedy, for a modern audience. Traditionalists will frown upon the inclusion of modern day songs and lines such as, ‘Unlock your phone, I beseech you’, but such devices fulfilled their purpose: as supposed to some gentle chuckle demonstrating your intellectual sophistication, they produce genuine belly-laughs from the entirety of the audience. Whether you agree with the methods used to create this effect or not, there is little doubt that they achieve their aim.

Now for some particular highlights. The stage, set in the round, was especially impressive. Dynamic moving parts, forcing the standing audience to move with them, accompanied by acrobatic fairies dancing on ribbons in the sky ensured the space was utilised mesmerisingly. Indeed, the companion with whom I saw the play noted that the almost sexual nature of the fairies’ movement provided a strong antithesis with the repression so obvious in Athens.

Further, the four youths, Demetrius (Paul Adeyefa), Lysander (Kit Young), Helena (Tessa Bonham Jones) and Hermia (Isis Hainsworth) were all accomplished in their roles; the constant swapping of their beloved showing the extremity, and perhaps flippancy, of young love. Even Oliver Chris, who plays both Thesius and Oberon, was impressive, appearing sufficiently besotted with Bottom. It is for the actor who plays Bottom (Hammed Animashaun), however, that most praise should be reserved. Not only was he the star of the ‘Mechanics’, who produced a play with aspects that Brecht himself would have been proud of, but the entire performance. From his first line, he had the audience roaring with laughter.

I would reserve just two criticisms for this play. Firstly, I sometimes felt that the characters of both Hippolyta and Titania, which were played by Gwendoline Christie, were somewhat contrived. Secondly, two hours and forty-five minutes into the play, I was beginning to feel that it should end, a wish that would not be answered for another twenty minutes. Nonetheless, I question whether this was, in reality, just a product of me being tired at the end of a long day! Certainly, there was not a drop in quality for this last period.

Hence, to summarise, the National Theatre’s latest Shakespeare must be considered an overwhelming success: witty, energetic and poignant – what’s not to like?

Rating: 5/5