The Bridge Theatre
Directed by Nicholas Hytner
It begins grey, with black suits, grey serge, with wimples. It’s no fun, after all, what with Hermia’s father wanting her to marry Demetrius, threatening to have her executed otherwise. Wisely, Hermia and Lysander decide to run away to his aunt’s house…. And so it begins.
Going to Shakespeare is often an act of piety, but when Shakespeare is done well, it knocks the socks off the rest, and this Dream is done very well indeed.
Certainly I can imagine purists bridling. I bridled a bit, as my confusion cleared and I realised that Titania and Oberon had been swapped. Whether this was because Sir Brienne of Tarth needed a bigger role, or there were more laughs in a Dick Emeryish approach to the Titania-Bottom sex scenes, or whether it was just all tremendously woke, I don’t know, and by the end I no longer cared. This was because I was enjoying myself so much.
One of the very good things about Nicholas Hytner’s production is the vim and verve brought to the often rather dull quartet of indistinguishable lovers abandoning themselves in the forest. They were all good, but Kit Young (Lysander) in particular deserves a name check. I think he’d make a rather good Hamlet. Odd thing to say, but I’ve said it now, and dammit, I shan’t delete. The other star was Hammid Animashaun, who thoroughly enjoyed playing Bottom, an enjoyment enjoyed too by the audience.
Ah, yes, the audience. The Bridge Theatre is a remarkable place. It doesn’t have a stage. Instead it has a series of landing blocks that rise and fall, along with enormous prop bricks than run in and out or up and down: these are variously beds and swards, and they are pitted around the space at the centre of the auditorium, and surrounded by a standing audience, or rather a moving audience, for it is continually being moved about and burrowed through, and generally never left alone. It is made to clap along, even to dance. In return it occasionally whooped enthusiastically, and applauded particular bits of business. The stage craft, which involves design, stage managers, and the actors themselves, is boggling impressive. The Bridge is a rather wonderful theatre, both grown up and contemporary. The place was full of the young.
The gender-bending works much better here than it did in the enjoyable but distinctly iffy Julius Caesar, Hytner’s last Shakespeare at The Bridge, and the crowd interaction seemed much more natural. Emma Smith, the current Shakespeare eminence, thinks the Dream is a dark piece concerned with transgressive sexuality, inappropriate for children. I personally think almost all Shakespeare is inappropriate for children until such time as they understand it, but this production, never sentimental or cloying, I think would enchant the intelligent young as much as it enchanted me.