With theatres around the UK and beyond remaining closed as lockdown continues, companies and venues are doing their bit to keep audiences at home connected and entertained as best as possible. While watching theatre productions online can never match up to really experiencing it live, it’s one way to keep the theatre spirit alive and thriving.
Summer 2019. The pit of the Bridge Theatre is turned into a magical forest with fairies flying around on ropes and beds rising from the audience. Shakespeare most famous romantic comedy is brought to life once again, but this time, in a much more modern and immersive way.
If you think that you are too edgy for Shakes or that classics are too boring, you might want to reconsider that. Here’s a few reasons to watch Nick Hytner’s “A Midsummer Night Dream” online while it’s available. Beware, this article contains spoilers.
1- Bringing Shakespeare to the 21st Century
Back in the days, shows were staged with no seats, or orchestra level, so that audience members can be at the center of the story. For this production, the keyword definitely is : immersive. All around the stage, the audience acts as a beating heart, one that is moving and evolving with the story and actors. Even actors play a huge part in it, emerging directly from the crowd when it’s their turn to take the stage. You wouldn’t even notice them at first as they blend so easily into the audience members.
As a final celebration, the audience are invited to join the fun by dancing in circles, hand in hand, around the fairy couple, flower crowns and all. A truly magical moment, enhanced by the use of Florence And The Machine’s “Only If For A Night”, before jumping right back into Beyoncé’s “Love On Top”, the stages going down and the actors blending with the audience members.
The production also uses the high of the theatre, incorporating trapezes and ropes into the staging, allowing fairies to fly around like they are on the Cirque du Soleil or acrobats. Even high above the stalls, that’s one way to connect with the audience and pursue the dream. Suddenly, you’re not at the Bridge, but in the middle of a magic forest, surrounded by magic elements.
Who would have thought that Beyoncé could ever mingle with Shakespeare? But “Love On Top” starts playing and the rest is history. As Bottom and Oberon fall in love, the audience is invited to follow the love-bed and the seducing game that is happening up there. Surely, the image of Bottom and Oberon grinding to Beyoncé will surely be trapped into your mind for a while.
2- Come for the classic tale… Stay for the laughs!
Oh the fun you have while watching Nick Hytner’s “A Midsummer Night Dream”. Two particular characters managed to steal the show with their flamboyant attitude and acting.
First off, Bottom. He’s fun, he’s witty and unapologetically know his worth. From the first time he stepped onto the stage to the very last performance of the Rude Mechanicals, he is the comedic soul of this show, stealing every scene with its presence. He lives in the moment and in this version, he’s not just a vain guy wanting the best part in the play but someone who really enjoys life to the fullest. Hammed Animashaun breaking character and letting a bit of himself slipping into it is also a huge part of Bottom. As if Hammed and Bottom were just one person, going from one personality to another back and forth. And when a fairy king falls in love with him -or him as an ass, he just goes with it, as it is a given that Oberon treats him like a toyboy.
And when Bottom asks you for a calendar, you provide. At some point in the show, the actor turns to the audience to ask for a smartphone, resulting of him going through personal pictures (and making fun of you for finding quirky pics) and taking a selfie with the other mechanicals.
As for Hammed Animashaun specifically, there’s something fascinating about the adorable side of his big ego and his want to have everything under control when it comes to the mechanicals. Even after turning into a donkey, it’s his laugh that catch the attention.
Moving on to the real star of the show: Puck. He’s chaotic, childish, reckless and a free spirit running wild -well, when he’s not trying to follow Titania’s orders. He’s also the character with the most audience interaction, which makes Puck irresistible and relatable: running from one stage to another -Move! Move Move! – as the diva he really is, often speaking his opinion about people getting in the way -uh, Londoners!, and stage diving in the most rock’n’roll way. It sometimes also feels like Puck is the narrator of the show, going in and out of scenes, watching the show from his trapeze, speaking with the crowd (that Irish high-five), appearing and disappearing in the crowd like he is one with the audience. At last, he’s the one to wave goodbye the audience, reaching out one hopeful hand to them, as to make one. Kudos to the fast rising star David Moorst for portraying this child-like character in all its charms so well!
3- The cast
Prepare to be blown away by all the cast of this fabulous adaptation. It’s almost as they all have comedy and talent etched into every part of their body or as if their character were just an extension of their own personalities. Let’s start with the Rude Mechanicals actors who truly gave them all for the play in the play. From Jermaine Freeman (Flute) to Francis Lovehall (Starveling), Ami Metcalf (Snout), Jamie-Rose Monk (Snug), Felicity Montagu (Quince) and the unforgettable Hammed Animashaun (Bottom), it feels like they were born to play these characters. Just like the newfound actors in the play, this group works together and have their own dynamics that works really well and take you out of the magic to jump right into a proper comedy.
The lovers are also very impressive with four perfectly cast young actors: Tessa Bonham Jones as the blonde and tall Helena, Isis Hainsworth as the small and fragile Hermia, Kit Young as the runaway Lysander and Paul Adefeya as the cursed lover Demetrius. They wear their character like a second skin, not restraining themselves when it comes to screaming or snogging their castmates.
With their fairies played by the ever and multi-talented Charlotte Atkinson (Moth), Chipo Kureya (Peaseblossom), Lennin Nelson-McClure (mustarseed) and Rachel Tolzman (Bedbug), Gwendoline Christie (Titania/Hippolyta) and Oliver Chris (Theseus/Oberon) make up one peculiar fairy kingdom. Oliver Chris managed to bring out the duality of both of his role from being very uptight as Theseus and very cheeky as Oberon. From being put to silence and really quiet to being this mighty queen, Gwendoline Christie really runs the show.
In this re-imagined world of Shakepeare, it seems the party will go on forever. 5 five stars might not be able for this dream of a show blending together past and present and imagination and harsh reality. Please do yourself a favor and dive into this world with us.