In an epic Bard-off, there’s now another version of Will Shakespeare’s perennial mid-year knees-up ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ streaming for free. Alongside the Globe’s version, the National Theatre is weighing in with a production from last year starring Gwendoline Christie. It’s the latest in the brilliant NT at Home season to inject a bit of magic into your weekend.
That’s right, Brienne of Tarth is front and centre here, playing Hippolyta/Titania in a staging directed by Nicolas Hytner from the Bridge Theatre, so it’s a treat for ‘Game of Thrones’ stans as well as devotees of our national poet.
Christie is in the midst of a maelstrom here, in a version of an already all-over-the-shop play that we described as ‘messy, sprawling and quite glorious’. See, usually, directors try to tweak ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ – essentially a work about some toffs getting messed with by fairies in a wood – to try and give it a bit of structural coherence. Hytner opts for the opposite approach. Although his production is modern dress, he loads on the toppings: there’s the Queen of Athens in a fish tank; there are big inflatable balls for the audience to play with; there’s an afterparty.
In the hands of a less disciplined director, this would result in a whole Andy Warhol retrospective’s worth of car crashes. Instead, we reckoned it was ‘a riotously gender-fluid, immersive production that generally feels like designer Bunny Christie’s main inspiration was Pride (it is that time of year). When Oberon and Bottom finally get it on, surrounded by dancing fairies, while Beyoncé (obvs) thunders from the PA, it is cheesy, silly, predictable, subversive and joyous. There isn’t a huge amount to “do” if you’re part of the standing audience, but there is something inclusive and fun about being in the increasingly giddy midst of it all, of being up close while various guilty pop pleasures blare away, and cast members leap out of the beds that surround us or descend from above.’
Yes, it’s silly; yes it’s essentially a big party – but anyone who’s struggled through GCSE English and suffered the inevitable school production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (green face paint! tights! plastic plants!) will thank the lords of theatre for that.