Posted by Sari
At the appropriate time of year, we get NT Home production of Midsummer Night’s Dream from the Bridge theatre directed by – who else – Nicholas Hytner. And it is brilliant.
Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play that easily bears multiple interpretations from erotic fairy-tale to light family comedy. It can be seen as the comedy obverse of Romeo and Juliet or it can stress the more serious themes of (toxic) patriarchy and infidelity. And I think its malleability proves that the text is much more than just a delightful romp through the woods.
Hytner’s production has not apparently been everybody’s cup of tea. For one, It is very immersive and fourth-wall breaking. The action takes place on raised and lowered platforms with groundlings standing all around and herded by the movement stewards to appropriate positions when the actors and platforms move, so audience is very much part of the production. Even more, there is interaction between audience and the performers: Puck and Bottom address the audience, Puck crowd surfs, and in the most famous scene, the rude mechanicals borrow a cell phone from audience member to check the stages of the moon.
There is also quite a lot of ad-libbing, short answering phrases or jokes slipped in between the Shakespearean dialogue. I think it works well, but I can see why that would jolt some people.
Most importantly the play – as so many productions now days – plays with the gender roles. For modern (feminist) audiences, Dream’s text can be pretty rough: Egeus and Theseus want to force Hermia to marry Demetrius on the pain of death, Hippolyta is literally Theseus prisoner, Oberon wants to take Titania’s page, and then plays a trick on her by making her fall in love with Bottom as an Ass.
Here Hytner first makes Athens a repressive religious patriarchy, and then queers the play to eleven by switching the dialogue between Oberon and Titania in the forest scenes. It works brilliantly. As Hytner follows Brook and most post-Brook productions in doubling the roles of Theseus and Oberon and Hippolyta and Titania, the shenanigans in the woods influence the stern Theseus and defeated Hippolyta of the first scene, and by the end, they, through Oberon and Titania, have found new sides to themselves. Similarly, as Hippolyta, Gwendolyn Christie can’t offer Hermia anything else but sympathy from her glass-case prison. As Titania she can help both pairs of lovers and teach Oberon a lesson.
All the actors do a good job. David Morst is an obvious standout as very punk Puck and is great both in delivery and the physicality he brings to the role (The fairies spend most their time on circus slings doing acrobatics – a homage to Brook and his trapezes, maybe) But my favorites are firstly Oliver Chris’s Theseus/Oberon, he is outstanding both as an unyielding Theseus and love-sick fairy-king, and the way he sort of blends together both his roles in the playacting scene is great. Secondly, Jamie-Rose Monk as Snug the Joiner. She had great comic timing and her freestyle wrestling lion was hilarious. She also delivers a great song for Oberon and Bottom.
This would have been a great production to see live, especially as a groundling, but even the cinecast was a delight.