A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a Shakespearean tale as old as time.
A classic so overdone, one tends to groan to and here it is back on stage. But no more. Nicholas Hytner’s production of the age-old tale at the Bridge theatre is a wonder and marvel to behold from top to Bottom (pun intended).
I was first struck, not by the magnificent staging or intelligent set design, but by the way the actors made me hear these speeches and words I know so well, anew. They blended Shakespearean verse with modern day prose intelligently but without overcooking it so that it lent weight and truth at every point to Bard’s words without detraction. For the first time in my life, I really understood the stakes of what Hermia (expertly discharged by Isis Hainsworth – Wanderlust) could be committing herself to if she does not bow to her father’s will. I saw the true hardness of her choice, be celibate for life, or death. I saw throughout this play, how little the women owned their bodies, and how their society would have it so. Because the one woman who did own herself, Hippolyta (Gwendoline Christie – Game of Thrones), was captured, forced into the costume of the “good docile woman“, and put on display as a cautionary tale to all women everywhere, “this is what you become if you don’t conform“.
The acting across the board was exceptional. Hammed Animashawun (The Festival) is the best Bottom I have ever seen. He did not assume any caricature to make Bottom the funny, silly, lovable character we all know. He went with the truth of a human being, made ridiculous more by his life (and the ears and status so lovingly bestowed by Puck) than anything else, and in that vulnerability and sweetness, you had a hilarious character made resonant with the audience.
‘Puck‘ (David Moorst – Allelujah!) was incredible and a talent to keep an eye on. His physicalisation of the character was one hundred percent committed; he had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand, even when he dashed us away callously, we came running back for more. Moorst’s Puck could easily steal this show if others are not on their top form.
Oberon/Theseus was brilliantly and masterfully helmed by Oliver Chris (The Green Wing). He was man dangerous, obstinate, sweet, soft, ridiculous and every other colour of the rainbow you can imagine in his performance. He has the art of being extremely subtle in a huge space and still transcending all the emotions to the very back of the room.
Of the lovers, fairies, and mechanicals, none was without acclaim but Chipo Kureya (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) as ‘Peaseblossom‘ really stood out to me. Not only for her acrobatic skills but her beautiful character arc that was so clear without a word. She revered her faerie King and yet had conflicts and story all her own. It was very hard to take my eyes off her whenever she was on stage.
Another performance I must highlight is Kit Young’s ‘Lysander’. Usually, with the lovers, you know what to expect, but there was a gravitas to his performance from the word go that made me really see the cojones needed to truly challenge the law in a world like the Athens Hytner created. By grounding himself so much with strength from the word go, Young created a benchmark that he could then veer away from and become light while being Hermia’s lover, but then return to when calling Demetrius out to duel. He has created my favourite Lysander ever.
Hytner’s direction was a masterclass stroke of genius. Switching the faerie royalty’s speeches was to me, ingenious, bold but a risk well worth taking. Based on the power of Gwendoline Christie who also played ‘Titania‘ and the chameleon-like versatility of Oliver Chris, it served them both better for Titania to be the pranker rather than Oberon’s prankee.
I would have preferred a less flowy femininely garbled Titania but apart from that, I thought the costume design was without reproach. At no point did this production lose my attention and this is no mean feat when it comes to this play.
It is hands down, the best production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream I have ever seen and here’s an insider tip; get standing tickets…
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at the Bridge Theatre until the 31st August. Find out more and book tickets here.