Review: A Midsummer's Night's Dream

Five stars for this production: 'the funniest, most joyous and playful of Dreams'


This is one of the best things I have seen.

You might have been wondering why on earth the Bridge Theatre’s co-founder and artistic director Nick Hytner would choose Shakespeare’s most performed, done-to-death play as a way of attracting his theatre-savvy audience back to his swanky venue.

But it turns out there are enough ideas here to make it seem as if the most familiar play in the canon is being staged for the first time. The biggest of these is to swap the genders of the fairy king and queen (Oliver Chris and and icy Gwendoline Christie) so that it is Titania for whom David Moorst’s slightly special-needs Puck works, and it is Oberon who ends up in bed with the donkey.

The result is hands down the funniest, most joyous and playful of Dreams with Chris’s formal king (also a terrifyingly austere Duke) transformed into a hedonist with a taste for camp underwear, bubble baths taken with his new, equine lover, and a newly developed fetish for a donkey’s long, um ears.

That joke is about the only reference to that hoary old gag about well-endowed mules that usually infects modern productions of this play. In fact, just about every trope and cliché Dream watchers have learned to expect has been replaced, or adapted into something fresh and new.

The staging helps. As with Hytner’s triumphant production of Julius Caesar, the audience can choose to be seated or insert themselves into the thick of the action. And, as with Caesar, Bunnie Christie’s design involves several mini stages in the form of plinths that rise out of he ground like choreographed geology. Meanwhile, overhead, fairies swing and swirl like trapeze artists — perhaps a nod to Peter Brooks’ landmark RSC production of 1970, only sexier.

In fact the air here is thick with eroticism. The magic passion flower is bandied about in a way that allows just about every kind of sexuality to get a look-in and psychological sense is made of Theseus’s new-found sexual tolerance because he and his fairy counterpart Oberon, it is implied, are the same people living in parallel universes.

The same is true of Christie’s Hippolyta and Titania who both liberate their worlds from a patriarchal form of oppression. That done, it is time for the rude mechanicals, led by Hammed Animashaun’s flamboyantly gauche Bottom, to take over proceedings with their butchered version of Pyramus and Thisbe like contestants in Britain’s Got Talent.

There may be those who think all these changes come too close to changing Shakespeare’s script. But look closer and actually the language remains completely intact and everything here is true to the play’s spirit of misrule right down to the party that the production irresistibly turns into at the end.


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