I need to start this review off with some honesty, for I feel that this confession is going to set the tone for this blog. I really struggle with Shakespeare, I find it extremely complicated and because of this, I have sort have been put off it. It was drilled into us at school through countless books and endless hours of lessons, and due to the fact that the teaching of Shakespeare wasn’t made very interesting, my class mates and I really didn’t enjoy learning it, and I believe that’s why I struggle with it so much now. I know that A Midsummer’s Night Dream probably isn’t the easiest of plays to follow for someone who struggles with Shakespeare as much as I do, but I had heard such good things about this Bridge Theatre production, that I just had to take a look when it became available through the National Theatre at Home scheme.
In really basic terms, A Midsummer’s Night Dream tells the story of mismatched lovers determined not to follow the rules set to them and to marry those they love rather than those they are ordered too. That doesn’t sound all that complication at first, but then you have to take the fairies into consideration, including the troublesome Puck who gives love potions to the wrong people and spends the entire play trying to undo his mistakes. Then there is the weaver Bottom, who for some reason has his head turned into that of a donkey. Lost yet? I sure was.
What this Bridge Theatre production does so differently from the more expected form of Shakespeare plays is makes it into an immersive experience. The action takes place in the centre of the performance space, with the stalls removed and audience members standing around various movable stages and are fully encouraged to take part in the action. There’s dancing around the stages, cast members performing on wires and silks above the audience, cast members pushing their way through the crowds and audience participation throughout. It feels very different, and very new. If Shakespeare had been taught like this when I was having to learn it, perhaps I would have been a lot more interested in it. With the addition of modern music used throughout, and the switching between the story and a group of performers putting on a play within the action, this production is very different from the norm.
I would love to be able to comment much more on the story, and how it was pieced together, but it was just so complicated I don’t feel I would be able to explain it probably. I was able to get the idea of it, people falling for the wrong people, fairies being bossed around by the fairy king, Puck trying to fix all of his mistakes and the fairy king somehow falling in love with the half man, half donkey. It all gets sorted out in the end of course, as most stories are, but I was still left feeling very confused.
You can’t fault the performances of the cast, from Gwendoline Christie as Hippolyta, Hammed Animashaun as Bottom, Oliver Chris as Oberon and David Moorst as Puck. This production is very full on, complete with high flying acrobatics, music and dance, and that’s before you even mention the intricate and complex language the cast members have to contend with. There are some funny moments, especially from Oberon and Bottom, Puck’s interactions with the audience, and the troupe of performers trying to put on a show whilst completely unaware of the strange going ons around them.
I imagine that being in that sort of pit surrounding the stages and having to move around as the stages were wheeled around the space was quite an experience, moving around with the action and seeing the performers swinging on silks overhead. This is a very different sort of Shakespeare, and whilst I did enjoy the production, I am still no better at understanding it.