A CurtainUp London Review
A Midsummer Night's Dream
What Hytner has done with Dream is to give many of Titania's lines to Oberon and vice versa. So the argument about the changeling child, which has so disrupted fairyland and, consequently life for humans on Earth, is about a votaress attached to Oberon and I almost believed the father of the child could be Oberon himself. Gwendoline Christie as Titania is majestic and with a physique, that would have been called statuesque so that her control of Puck (David Moorst) is believable.
Now Hytner hasn't swapped Bottom (Hammed Animashaun)'s gender so there is a different slant on Oberon's falling for the Mechanical weaver. There is also some fun to be had with the lovers and the flower "Love in idleness" which makes them fall in love with the next person they see, as Demetrius (Paul Adeyefa) momentarily falls for Lysander (Kit Young) and Hermia (Isis Hainsworth) for Helena (Tessa Bonham Jones), as well as the heterosexual couplings. That this is a seventeenth century version of the television reality show Love Island becomes apparent.
Bunny Christie's set uses metal framed four poster beds for the action in the forest which rise to higher levels for the central action. The fairies sit and spin on trapezes of silk watching the fun and there are songs from popular music. Oberon and Bottom do a hysterical dancing circuit of honour to Beyonce's "Love On Top", "Honey. Honey You're the one," and Oberon emerges from the bubble bath shared with his donkey friend with his modesty preserved with a slick of bubble bath foam. Arlene Phillips is the movement director. Christine Cunningham's costumes dress the Athenian court in monochrome greys and blacks with the men, in dark suits, and the women, headscarfed and looking like Margaret Atwood's colourless nun-like Handmaidens, forming a choir to welcome Hippolyta (Gwendoline Christie).
The entrance of the Mechanicals, the group that links both Athens and Fairyland through Bottom's encounter with (here) Oberon is full of colour. Hammed Aminashaun sports a yellow boiler suit as Bottom amuses the audience and is gently handled by a female director Quince (Felicity Montague).
The forced nature of Hippolyta's marriage is emphasized by seeing her at first in a glass cage and with her relating to Hermia whose father is insisting that she marry Demetrius. The Fairies' sequence becomes the colourful dream of Hippolyta's revenge on Theseus for his pomposity with Oberon ridiculed as well as the notion of romantic love.
I have often said that I might wish to see the alternative plays presented to celebrate the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta from which the Mechanicals' Pyramus and Thisbe is chosen and Hytner almost achieves that with three sets on stage ready to perform:
'The battle with the Centaurs, to be sung
By an Athenian eunuch to the harp.'
'The riot of the tipsy Bacchanals,
Tearing the Thracian singer in their rage.'
'The thrice three Muses mourning for the death
Of Learning, late deceased in beggary.'
This production of A Midsummer Night's Dream may not be pure Shakespeare but it is highly enjoyable and Shakespeare's verse is spoken beautifully albeit, in some cases, not by the characters he wrote it for.
If you can't get to The Bridge Theatre for the live Dream experience, on 17th October 2019 NT Live will broadcast the production tp 200 UK cinemas and more worldwide
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A Midsummer Night's Dream
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Nicholas Hytner
Starring: Oliver Chris, Gwendoline Christie, Hammed Animashaun
With: David Moorst, Isis Hainsworth, Tessa Bonham Jones, Paul Adeyefa, Kit Young, Kevin McMonagle, Felicity Montague, Jermaine Freeman, Ami Metcalf, Jamie-Rose Monk, Francis Lovehall, Chipo Kureya, Jay Webb, Charlotte Atkinson, Lennin Nelson McClure, Rachel Tolzman
Set Design: Bunny Christie
Costume Design: Christina Cunningham
Sound Designer: Paul Arditti
Lighting Design: Bruno Poet
Composer: Grant Olding
Movement: Arlene Phillips
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0333 320 0051
Booking to 31st August 2019
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 12th June 2019 evening performance at The Bridge Theatre, Potters Fields Park, London SE1 2SG (Rail/Tube: Charing Cross, Leicester Square)
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