BWW Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, Bridge Theatre via National Theatre At Home
Near the end of Nicholas Hytner's Bridge Theatre production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, there is a cheeky nod to immersive theatre from Theseus (Oliver Chris) with a mid-Pyramus and Thisbe interjection about the anarchic nature of the Rude Mechanicals' production. Hytner has capitalised on the success of his Julius Caesar the year before by placing his audience at the centre of the action. By creating a magical mosh pit in the heart of the Bridge, his production, along with Bunny Christie's beautiful design, brings out some of the very best of Shakespeare's hugely popular comedy.
Opening with a startling image of Hippolyta (Gwendoline Christie) in a glass case and more than a passing nod to Gilead, Hytner takes a political approach with his views on the way gender is grappled with in the play. Whilst this works well for the Theseus/Hippolyta arc, at the beginning at least, it is less successful with the reversal of the roles of Oberon and Titania. Placing the magical kingdom as a kind of Bizarro World to the Athenian court, the only purpose this serves in real terms is the heightened comedy of the drug-induced love affair between Oberon (also Oliver Chris) and Bottom (Hammed Animashaun). In one of the more absurdly funny scenes, both Chris and Animashaun capitalise on their unbridled joy and lust at setting eyes on each other.
Elsewhere, the comedy of the piece is owned by the Mechanicals. As a pack of jumpsuit-wearing firecrackers, their energy, passion and the very fact that, as a company, they play fast and loose with the text provide the lion's share of the joy of this production. The sequence of discovering if the moon shines on a particular night, which has since gone viral, is one of many moments that bridges the gap between spectator and performer in Hytner's show.
The rest of the production, which owes an awful lot to Peter Brook's 1970 version, comes across as unsatisfyingly earnest. If it wasn't for Tess Bonham Jones's spirited and driven Helena, the lovers would be positively bland, missing both the high stakes and comedy the text provides. However, David Moorst's Sid Vicious-esque Puck is a pleasure to behold. His grasp of both aerial and character is so ingrained that watching him is as exhausting as it is satisfying.
There is little doubt that the sheer spectacle of Hytner's Dream can only be imagined when watching it on a screen, though the unevenness of the production still remains. Nevertheless, there is an enormous amount of joy to be had; it's just a shame that the anarchy of the Mechanicals couldn't have filtered through to the rest of the production.