‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ review – Nicholas Hytner soars to new heights with this ethereal experience

The creative team behind last year’s hit Julius Caesar return with another spectacular, magical sensation – ★★★★★

Shakespeare, at its best, is truly immersive. With Caesar and now A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hytner’s staging is an honourable nod to how the play was originally performed – complete with pop culture references and acrobatics to create a mesmerising and fresh take on the Bard’s work.

Game of Thrones star and now Emmy award nominee Gwendoline Christie is no stranger to the fantastical, portraying the altered role of Titania, Queen of the Fairies, with mystique and authority. At times one wonders if her sprite (David Moorst), with his ripped t-shirt, rainbow armbands and gesticulations, is yet another poor stereotypical take on the camp persona. That aside, Moorst’s performance in the physically demanding role of Puck – one for which he trained from scratch – is impressive and exceptional.

As a production, Dream flirts with sexuality and gender. In this adaptation, it’s Titania who meddles with the lovers, players and King Oberon – the latter making for hilarious chemistry with Hammed Animashaun’s translated Bottom in an epic homoerotic climax to the tune of Beyoncé’s Love On Top.

As such, as the two characters with the most interaction with the audience, it’s Puck and Bottom who offer the most entertaining performances. After a bleak, slow and greyish opening, Bunny Christie’s forest greenery offers a far more intriguing and immersive set for audience members to explore.

The general frolicking and the fast-moving stage management – albeit distracting at times – is where most of the comedy lies. While there is sometimes humour in the play’s absurdity too (musical choices across the production allow for some laughs, including entertaining choreography to Dizzee Rascal’s Bonkers), the show’s descent into the nonsensical and hyperbolic sometimes falls flat.

A play within a play is the kind of meta, self-referential plot device which could prove hilarious in Hytner’s large-scale, expansive production. Granted, its farcical nature is a silly, clever irony, but it is one noticed and over-emphasised by the cast – Animashaun’s screaming and floundering proving more disturbing than outright hysterical.

Otherwise, Dream‘s charm comes naturally, with its grandiose presentation and – much like Caesar – the opportunity for audiences to ‘self-direct’ their experience. A fast-moving and immersive celebration, Dream certainly doesn’t rest easy.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is now playing at the Bridge Theatre until 31 August.

Production Images: Manuel Harlan.

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