wed 24/07/2019

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Bridge Theatre review – gender-juggling romp | reviews, news & interviews

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Bridge Theatre review – gender-juggling romp

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Bridge Theatre review – gender-juggling romp

Nicholas Hytner's vivacious 21st-century take shines like a disco glitterball

Crystal clear: we first encounter Gwendoline Christie imprisoned in a glass boxManuel Harlan

Nicholas Hytner’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge Theatre is a feat of exuberant brilliance, a gender-juggling romp that takes Shakespeare’s subversive text and polishes it so that it glints and shines like a glitterball at a disco. No holds are barred in this ecstatic 21st-century take, in which sexualities – as well as lovers – are swapped, the rude mechanicals get distracted by taking selfies, and Oberon, rather than Titania, loses his head for an ass.

Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie has star billing here in the traditionally twinned roles of Titania and Hippolyta. Yet it’s not Game of Thrones but The Handmaid’s Tale that’s referenced when audience members enter the auditorium to be confronted by Christie’s Hippolyta, hair tucked virginally in a headscarf, trapped in a glass case as she awaits her bridegroom.

It’s an opening that reminds us forcibly that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a text in which the sinister and frivolous intertwine. While schoolchildren encounter it essentially as a squabble in which lovers disobey their parents, one of the script’s most shocking details is that Hermia could face an honour killing for her wilfulness. Before the hallucinogenic delights of the forest, Hytner’s production leaves us in no doubt about the sexual repressiveness of the Athenian regime that the lovers are fleeing. As the action starts a choir of women, their heads also covered, sings psalms; a drum beats dourly, and Hippolyta stares out with the silent fury of a woman condemned rather than betrothed.

Yet if we start off in a Margaret Atwood-style dystopia, it’s not long till it feels as if Baz Luhrmann ambushes the evening with a cheeky nod to Peter Brook along the way. Though there is optional seating, the best way to enjoy this production is to get immersive tickets, not merely to follow the action on Bunny Christie’s ingenious set but so that – when the moment comes – baby you can disco! Different parts of the set suddenly rise up from the ground like magic mushrooms, while double bedsteads and bunks intertwined with foliage become the trees and undergrowth. To add to the sense of bonkers dreamscape as adventure playground, elegant trapezes swoop down from the ceiling (below), allowing for some impressive acrobatics, not least from David Moorst’s anarchic streetwise Puck.Released into the woods, Christie becomes an authoritative, charismatic Titania, cool as a cucumber in a jug of Pimms. As her squabbling consort, Oliver Chris’s Oberon begins all suave elegance, but reveals he has comedy etched into every fibre of his body – not least his eyebrows – as his love affair with Bottom takes wing. Led by Felicity Montagu, best known to most members of the audience as Alan Partridge’s long-suffering PA, Lynn, the rude mechanicals are superlatively hopeless, not least in their cheerfully unashamed abduction of an audience member's mobile phone. As Bottom, Hammed Animashaun is the embodiment of charmingly deluded bombast, a vision in a yellow boiler-suit who seems utterly in his element at the comedy high point, when he and Oberon appear in a bubble bath together.

With such an eruption of hilarity around them, you might think it would be hard for the lovers to make their mark, but in this production nobody is forced to play it straight – in any sense of the word. As Lysander, Kit Young stands out as a dude with a guitar smoothly persuading Isis Hainsworth’s spikily assertive Hermia to flout the law. And Paul Adeyela’s Demetrius and Tessa Bonham Jones’s Helena wittily negotiate the never more tricky theme of translating her self-loathing obsession into a healthily reciprocated love.

It’s a cheerful reminder of how, just before he became artistic director of the National Theatre, Hytner directed a revelatory The Winter’s Tale which – to the tuts of certain theatre critics – presented the pastoral scenes as a version of Woodstock. Yet reinventing the rural as rockfest proved both a perfect way of capturing the carnivalesque spirit buried in that most problematic of Shakespeare’s plays, and amplifying the emotions of the conclusion. Now, 18 years later, he demonstrates the same blend of perspicacity and irreverence in this glorious conceptually and physically vivacious Dream. It illuminates the text to perfection while simultaneously promising to be one of the best parties of the summer.

Gwendoline Christie becomes an authoritative, charismatic Titania, cool as a cucumber in a jug of Pimms

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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