National Theatre Live is such a gift to its audience. Bridging the gap between theatre and cinema and allowing the masses to dip their toes into the exhilarating world of live theatre while remaining comfortable in their faithful old cinema seat. It is more than just streaming, it’s an art-form in itself and there may be no greater example of the impact that it can have than the Bridge Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Nicholas Hytner takes on this classic Shakespearean romantic comedy and delivers an outstanding, intoxicating romp. Starring Gwendoline Christie and Oliver Chris as the famous feuding fairy Queen and King, A Midsummer Night’s Dream see’s four runaway lovers cross paths with the fairy royalty in their enchanting and seductive forest. With mischief on their mind, the King and Queen play with the mortals for their own amusement; causing love, heartbreak, laughs and the sweet seduction that only magic can bring.
Taking on one of Shakespeare’s most famous classics is no mean feat but Hytner does it with ease and expertise and delivers a dreamy, delicious take on story. Watching it is a visceral experience, one I can imagine is even more impressive in person. The music is hypnotic and places you perfectly within the dark forest and yet it is cut with contemporary hits to deliver comedic punches that remind you again just how funny this play is. Never before have I seen Beyoncé merge with Shakespeare and my limbs were twitching to jump up, clap along and join the audience as their breaming faces looked up at a grinding Bottom and Oberon with Beyoncé’s Love on Top blasting at full volume.
With the rolling smoke, moving stage pieces and aerial acrobats; the set design places you in the forest with real atmospheric effect and it is all too easy to find yourself forgetting where you are, leaving you vulnerable to the dark and mischievous magic that these fairies bring, aligning you again with the four despairing lovers; working its own Shakespearean witchcraft.
The cast is unbelievably impressive, there are no weak links within the team and the chemistry between each character, big or small, is palpable. With Isis Hainsworth as Hermia, Tessa Bonham Jones as Helena, Paul Adeyefa as Demetrius and Kit Young as Lysander; the four lovers are as tragic as they are witty. We feel their despair and confusion within this troublesome adventure but their humorous chemistry and delightful mishaps allow us to also revel in their misfortune. Bonham Jones gives a particularly delightfully bolshie performance, with the ring of stroppy teenager making her love-loss meltdowns a joy to watch.
Helping to push along the mischief is Puck, expertly played by David Moorst. Moorst gives a wonderfully physical performance and embodies the naughty nature of the meddling magic he so gleefully promotes. It is hard to believe he had no acrobatic experience before the production as he hangs, glides, jumps and flies across the theatre with such impressive ease.
Oliver Chris and Gwendoline Christie are terrific as our King and Queen. The pleasure they have at playing the characters is so clear to see, their smiles genuine and bright. Christie makes for a vivacious Titania, shining in her emerald gown and reigning supreme. Chris is completely hilarious as Oberon and gives perhaps my favourite ever take on the character. Hytner makes the marvelous decision of switching Titania and Oberon’s fate, leading Oberon to fall in love with Bottom instead. What a joyous outcome we receive. Chris plays it with a subdued sense of camp that feels genuinely funny without making homosexuality the butt of the joke.
Bottom himself is completely loveable and entirely amusing, thanks to Hammed Animashaun’s standout performance. No doubt my star of the production, Animashaun’s comedic timing, delivery and adorable oafishness makes him the perfect Bottom. A genuine talent, Animashaun’s performance gained the biggest laughs and watching the audience react to his hilarity, slapping each other on the arm, knocking their heads back with laughter; made the experience even more rewarding.
Ross MacGibbon does an expert job of directing the play for screen and the entire broadcast team showcased just how effective National Theatre Live can be. For a play that is so reliant on audience participation and aims to make is as immersive as possible, it is a marvel at just how involved you can feel sitting in a little cinema, miles away from the live action.
Hytner’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is outrageously funny, wicked even in its wit and left me feeling giddy with Shakespearean pleasure. It is hard not to be completely charmed by it all when you’re intoxicated by something as delicious as a truly comedic romantic comedy.
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