Friday, October 18, 2019

'A Midsummer Night's Dream' by William Shakespeare

18 October 2019

On Thursday we made a second visit to the Curzon Cinema at Milton Keynes Gallery to see a screening of Nicholas Hytner’s production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', filmed live at the Bridge Theatre in London. This is an immersive promenade performance with the actors moving amongst a standing audience, in a similar way to Hytner’s spectacular production of ‘Julius Caesar’ at the Bridge Theatre (reviewed here in April 2018). Once again the crowd control, by discreetly positioned stewards within the audience, was very slick – with the audience parting at just the right moment to let the actors through. Nicholas Hytner sets the opening Athens scenes of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' in a fiercely patriarchal society clearly modelled on the TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. And once the action moves into the forest he references Peter Brook’s legendary 1970 RSC production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' by deploying a team of aerial gymnasts on trapezes above the audience. The production is great fun with a multitude of clever gimmicks and additions (maybe too many). Nicholas Hytner’s main innovation – which works wonderfully – is to swap the roles of Oberon and Titania, making the sexual politics of the dream funnier and much less creepy. Gwendoline Christie is magnificent as Titantia/Hippolyta but Oliver Chris threatens to steal the show as Oberon/Theseus. David Moorst is very funny and incredibly athletic as Puck and the lovers are excellent, particularly Tessa Bonham Jones as Helena. The rude mechanicals are also extremely funny – led by Felicity Montagu as Quince and featuring a brilliantly vulnerable performance by Hammed Animashaun as Bottom. The end of the first half of the play and the finale both turn the auditorium into a massive party and it looked like great fun to be part of the promenading audience in the pit. My only criticism was that some of the added tricks and business distracted a little from what are usually the funniest scenes of the play. I don’t think it quite matched the cinema screening of Julie Taymor's amazing 2014 production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' at the Theater for a New Audience in Brooklyn, New York (reviewed here in August 2015) but the Bridge Theatre performance was incredibly enjoyable and left me beaming.

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