Paul T Davies reviews William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream now playing at the Bridge Theatre, London.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The Bridge Theatre.
12 June 2019
WATCH THIS PRODUCTION AT HOME
The National Theatre’s at Home programme will stream this production You Tube from 25th June to 2 July 2020. Find Out More Here
After seeing Emma Rice’s 2016 gender-swapped, colour, age and ethnic blind casting production of the Dream at the Globe, I announced I was through with Shakespeare’s classic. It felt, for me, like the ultimate reading of the play, I loved it and wondered if anything new could be found in the text following it. But Gwendoline Christie, (from Game of Thrones), as Titania? Gender swapped with Oberon? In an immersive production at The Bridge, where their immersive Julius Caesar was one of the best productions of last year? Yes, I’m ready to go into the woods with Puck and Co again, and what a wise decision that was!
The show isn’t quite perfect. Theseus’s court is austere and severe, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, encased in a glass box, not so much wooed but won, her nuptials a threat rather than a joyful occasion. It takes an age to get the audience in, and it doesn’t help that the pace is slow- as it is in a couple of scenes throughout the performance. But once the action moves into the forest, the magic begins. Gwendoline Christie is a poised Titania, speaks the verse well, but her delivery is slow, and it feels as if she is in another production. You long for her to throw off the shackles of armour and let herself go because the rest of the cast have enormous fun. Taking most of Oberon’s lines, and putting the love potion in HIS eyes, she also gives up some of the funniest scenes in the play, so we get to see Oberon play with Hammed Animashaun’s glorious Bottom. (That line refuses to rewrite itself. I tried. Honest.)
From the first scene with the rude mechanicals, you know you’re in for a treat with them. Felicity Montagu is an excellent Quince, trying to organise her actors, Jermaine Freeman wonderfully feminine as Flute, Jamie-Rose Monk a quiet Snug, and wonderfully defensive “butch” characterisations of Snout and Starveling by Ami Metcalf and Francis Lovell. But it’s Bottom that steals the entire show, and it’s a stroke of genius to have Oberon fall in love with him. Oliver Chris has perfected a posh boy persona so well in plays such as One Man Two Govner’s and he is a joy as Oberon, seducing Bottom to Beyonce’s Love on Top – this is worth the ticket price alone! They are brought together by David Moorst’s cheeky, lovable Northern Puck, ad-libbing superbly with the audience, and the quartet of lovers are uniform ally excellent, Isis Hainsworth, Tessa Bonham Jones, Paul Adeyefa and Kit Young revelling in the untidiness of love’s dream.
When you think you can’t cry with laughter any more, the Rude Mechanicals perform Pyramus and Thisbe, presenting the prologue as interpretive dance and bringing the house down! See this production for that alone. But see it for Oberon and Bottom in a bubble bath, see it for the trapeze artistry and, above it, see it because it keeps the worries of the world at bay and sends you home with a huge smile on your face.
One final thing. I swapped my standing ticket for a seat, (thank you front of house for appreciating that my six foot seven frame makes me a little self-conscious in a crowd scene!), and still had a perfect experience. So I was looking down and, when a huge flag is carried over the heads of the Pit audience, I could see the rainbow colours projected onto it. In Pride month, queers and their allies danced a midsummer dance. Much appreciated Bridge, much appreciated.