A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Theatre Review

Rating: 4

By Georgina Brown

Nick Hytner’s dark ‘immersive’ staging of Shakespeare’s comedy of errors goes to great pains to puncture any airy-fairy notions about love being dreamy. Erotic, certainly, but a nightmare for the lovers, who are bewitched, bothered and bewildered. 

For this Athens is a sombre place. Queen of the Amazons, a towering Hippolyta in floor-length grey and veiled like a nun (played by Gwendoline Christie, who is 6ft 3in and best known as armour-clad Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones) stands inside a glass box like a live captive installation. Frumpy cardiganed handmaidens (shades of The Handmaid’s Tale) sing for her, joylessly. Her clenched face suggests that this is anything but a love match between herself and her betrothed, the harsh Duke Theseus (Oliver Chris). It is a life sentence. Moreover, Theseus has forbidden Hermia from marrying the man she loves.

Once the action moves to fairyland, however, the fantasy and the fun starts. Bedsteads drop from on high. Sexy, sparkling, sequined fairies swivel, spin and pole-dance on four-posters. Christie doubles as a less formidable fairy queen Titania, having a tricky time with another stern spouse, Oberon (again, Oliver Chris). She swings in a silken bower, her emerald gown cascading, and cackles like a mischievous witch at the idea of filling Oberon’s head full of crazy imaginings. For in Hytner’s gender-bending, disorientating frolic, it is Oberon who becomes enraptured by Bottom the Weaver, who has been magicked into an ass. In a glorious camp moment, Oberon emerges from a bath with his donkey lover, their modesty protected by bubbles, to the tune of Beyoncé’s Love on Top. ‘How I dote on thee,’ drools the besotted Oberon, only for Bottom, a show-stealing Hammed Animashaun, to whimper: ‘Not now, I’ve got a headache!’

The play unfolds in the theatre pit, filled with promenading groundlings. Though, bizarrely, little promenading is required beyond moving out of the way when props pop up. Having been peripatetic to begin with, I had a better view from the stalls for the second half, though I was sorry not to be part of the party and dancing which ends the show.

There is much merriment, especially from the hilarious band of Rude Mechanicals, who borrow phones and take selfies as they rehearse for their show. But there is too little enchantment and this play’s beautiful poetry gets lost in the boisterous romp. Crucially, David Moorst’s gobby, yobby hobgoblin Puck, though full of cheek, fails to charm. And it doesn’t help that he pronounces ‘fairy’ as ‘furry’. Believe me, there is nothing remotely furry about the majestic Gwendoline Christie.

Bridge Theatre, London SE1 until 31 August: 0333-320 0051, www.bridgetheatre.co.uk