It’s probably unlike any A Midsummer Night’s Dream that you’ve seen before. Nicholas Hytner had already had a hit with Julius Caesar at the Bridge, which played out as a political thriller with promenading audience members as the citizens of Rome, when he conceived this dreamy dream. It has a real party feel about it, as if Glastonbury and Shakespeare are on a collision course. Of course, it’s not a new idea as anyone who has seen The Donkey Show will attest.
It’s very silly. But a bit of silliness might be just what we all need at the moment. It rather shows a side of Hytner as a director that we haven’t seen before. We are often quite po-faced in the UK about the way we stage Shakespeare. This is a production that puts the shake into Shakespeare and says: “Let’s party!”
Photos by Manuel Harlan.
The design by Bunny Christie is gorgeous. Think Bedknobs and Broomsticks meets the Big Top. Ivy clad brass bedsteads appear like magic, there’s a bathtub for sexual frolicking, and the fairies are aerialists flying overhead. Think Peter Brook’s iconic 1970 trapeze-influenced Dream and then add a rainbow Pride banner of colour.
Hytner reassigns and manipulates Shakespeare’s text in intriguing ways and in the process makes this a more transgressive Dream, one which explores the fluidity of gender and sexuality and which does it with a high degree of joy, lots of camp, a well-developed mischievousness and benefits from a little help from Beyoncé.
It’s got an ace cast. Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones’ Brienne of Tarth) plays Hippolyta/Titania, Oliver Chris is a very funny Theseus/Oberon, Hammed Animashaun is a quite frankly adorable yellow boiler-suited Bottom who gets turned into an ass, and David Moorst is a memorable Puck, both anarchic and acrobatic.
Athens in Dream is always a patriarchal society, but here that is heightened with Hippolyta presented as a captive Amazonian Queen, exhibited in a glass box by her husband, Theseus, who is coercing her into marriage in a city that is as joyless as it is repressive. It’s all very Handmaid’s Tale. But the tables are turned in the woods where it is Titania who is very much in control?
But doesn’t Oberon humiliate Titania by using magic to make her fall in love with Bottom who has been turned into a donkey? Nah, not in this version which cleverly reframes the power dynamics so that it is Theseus/Oberon who is so enchanted that he becomes erotically aroused by an ass. So stirred that Bottom announces: “Babe, babe, not now. I’ve got a headache.” It removes the meanness inherent in the original set-up and allows for the possibility that the night in the woods will have wrought genuine transformation, particularly for Theseus.
You can watch A Midsummer Night's Dream on Thu 25 Jun at 7pm here, available until Thu 2 Jul.
And you can browse all the online theatre available to watch in our Streamdoor guide.