The team behind last year’s acclaimed production of ‘Julius Caesar’ at the Bridge Theatre returns with a new immersive adaptation of William Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.
The Bridge Theatre is transformed into a forest that forms the setting for the moonlight revels of our characters, be they Athenians or fairies. Audience members may choose whether to be seated around them, or follow on foot.
Nicholas Hytner returns to the Bridge to direct this dreamy production of Shakespeare’s oft performed play, providing an engaging exploration of madness and confusion wrought by love, trying to hold to truth, love and reason in a realm of shadows and spirits.
The play begins in Athens, prior to the forthcoming nuptials of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Young Hermia and Lysander are in love, but Hermia’s father states that if she does not marry Demetrius, she must die. He petitions the Duke for guidance, and Theseus grants Hermia a third option, that she shall live out her days as a nun. Hermia and Lysander plan to run away together, but Helena, who loves Demetrius, tells him of their plans, and soon all four of them are wandering the forest, unaware of the mischief that is to befall them.
Oberon, King of the Fairies, and Titania, Queen of the Fairies, are estranged, due to a dispute over a changeling whom Oberon wishes to keep. To punish him, Titania tells the sprite Puck to apply the juice from a flower to Oberon’s eyelids as he sleeps, and on waking, he will fall in love with the first creature he sees.
Meanwhile, a group of players rehearse a play they hope to perform at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. When Bottom’s ego gets the better of him, however, and he tries to take on all the roles, the Puck decides to teach him a lesson.
When we meet Gwendoline Christie’s Hippolyta, she is standing in a glass case, as an object to be looked at, her voice quietened, the glass a barrier between herself and the other characters. She earnestly puts her hand against the glass in a show of sympathy and understanding to Hermia. Here, Theseus is in charge, he is dominant – the men have the power. In the fairy realm, however, an exciting new role reversal (played to great comic effect) sees Christie’s Titania wielding the power and driving the action, making the decisions and calling the shots.
Christie conducts herself with a regal grace as Titania, exerting her authority as Queen of the Fairies, bold when necessary, but always realising the beauty of Shakespeare’s poetic imagery. Frequently watching the action unfold from a silk harness, she laughs a lot, finding great delight in talking to Puck, and hearing of Oberon’s new lover. Hippolyta subdued in comparison, what takes place in the fairy realm sees power translated onto the women, which allows the character to forgo the glass case, and join Theseus on an equal footing.
Oliver Chris is sharp and powerful as the authoritative Duke, Theseus, a character very much in command. In this switched up production, his Oberon is given the love potion, and so it is he who is woken from his flowery bed by Bottom’s braying. His sudden passionate declarations are hilarious, and the relationship between the two quickly sees them sharing bubble baths.
David Moorst is spectacular as the mischievous, knavish sprite Puck. Loyal servant to Titania, he doesn’t always do exactly as he is bid, and is a natural troublemaker. When he pours love potion on the eyelids of the wrong Athenian, the four young lovers are thrown into chaos as their love becomes ever more changeable. To Puck, however, it all seems as sport, and he revels in the trouble he causes. A lively, spirited performance that demands great physicality, Moorst spends a lot of time airborne, showing off aerial skills on silk ribbons as he tries to convince us that he belongs to another world, not the world of foolish mortals.
Kit Holder, Isis Hainsworth, Paul Adeyefa and Tessa Bonham Jones are delightful as Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius and Helena respectively, their passionate performances testament to the fact that ‘the course of true love never did run smooth’.
Hammed Animashaun is excellent as the egotistical, narcissistic Bottom. During rehearsals for a play, Bottom continues to overrule the decisions of the writer, taking matters into his own hands, and demanding to play all the parts. In order to teach him a lesson, Puck transforms him into an ass. Alone in the forest, he wakes Oberon, who falls deeply in love with him, at first sight.
The ‘Rude Mechanics’, an amateur dramatic group, of which Bottom is a member, hope to perform for the Duke at his wedding. They present for the Duke’s entertainment, ‘The most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe’. A play-within-a-play, this is performed towards the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the Duke, Hippolyta, and the four young lovers sit together to watch it. Despite everything going wrong – Bottom frantically whispering stage directions to his fellow cast members, people tripping over each other and kicking miniature Christmas trees into the crowds – the play is actually quite serious, and ends with a tragedy as would rival Romeo and Juliet. And yet, the newlyweds sit laughing, entertained by the spectacle, which is very telling concerning their own views of love.
The production brilliantly combines the real world with the fairy world, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality. With some cast members doubling as Athenians and fairies, that line is blurred all the more, enhancing the surreal, dreamlike nature of the play as one is constantly made to question what is real.
The audience members that choose to stand in the pit are fully immersed in the action, walking upon the forest floor amidst the mist and the moonlight, drawn in by the natural beauty of the flowery, leafy set.
Oberon’s fairy servants regularly take to the air using silks in great shows of energy, strength and flexibility, flying above our heads as the other-worldly surrounds us.
Towards the end of the production, a large white silken sheet is passed over the heads of the standing audience members, from one end of the auditorium to the other. When it is removed, it appears as though some characters have disappeared along with it. A cleansing of the shadowy visions that have past, the characters are now able to see clearly as all curses are broken and true loves restored.
The love potion may be administered from a flower referred to as love-in-idleness, but this production has love in abundance as it presents love in many forms – from animalistic, brutal desire, to fickleness and inconstancy, to true love, which is not without its hardship, as the young lovers find out.
As the final scenes play out, the standing audience are encouraged to hold hands, and they all encircle Titania and Oberon as the two are reconciled, all standing together in one united celebration of love.
Another incredible production, the Bridge Theatre makes clear once more that it is bringing the theatre of tomorrow, today. May it continue to pioneer the way in immersive theatre, and the like that ensures the work of writers such as Shakespeare is available to the masses, as it should be, and as was intended.
An uplifting, enchanting, ethereal production, A Midsummer Night’s Dream will enamour your ear, and enthrall your eye.