Review - A Midsummer Night's Dream starring Gwendoline Christie at the Bridge Theatre
The Bridge is billing its new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream as immersive, but in fact it's just old-fashioned promenade for the groundlings in the pit, who mill around or are shunted about a bit as the actors appear on various platforms that rise and descend around them, mostly containing variations of beds, or occasionally take to the air on bungee-like circus trapezes. The rest of the audience is seated in galleries around the full perimeter of the playing space.
This is hardly as radical as it seems to want to position itself, but director Nick Hytner (a co-founder of the Bridge) is a past master at accessible contemporary Shakespeare, and as with his similarly promenade Julius Caesar at this address last year, he and his fellow creative team of designers from that production keep the show fast and fluid, fun and occasionally surprising.
Though Gwendoline Christie (best known for TV's Games of Thrones, in which she played the warrior Brienne of Tarth) is the "star" attraction - and takes the star position of silently standing in a glass-encased box as the audience files in - this is very much an ensemble show, with diverse casting to the fore.
This makes the aesthetic more like a show out of Emma Rice's tenure at the Globe, where she staged an irreverent, crowd-pleasing version of Dream in 2016. This production, which has movement direction by Arlene Phillips, comes complete with Beyoncé's Love on Top played at the end as a giant bouncy ball is flung around the auditorium that reminded me of Slava's Snowshow.
So even some of its most novel-seeming aspects feel a bit second-hand. Still, there are still some innovative touches, like having Oberon and not Titania fall for Hammed Animashaun's Bottom when he is transformed into a donkey.
Oliver Chris and David Moorst undergo more sprightly transformations as Theseus/Oberon and Puck respectively, with a bare-chested Chris finding a sexual charge in his seduction by Bottom and Moorst bringing a playful energy to Puck as he hangs upside down from the bungee rope.
You hardly need to wait ages for a production of this play to come around in London, but a second one is about to open at Regent's Park's Open Air Theatre, where the forest glade-like setting will provide its own sense of immersive theatre rather than the rather forced one here.
The production will also be broadcast to over 700 UK cinemas on October 17th, where the cameras will no doubt take audiences into the heart of the action as a gallery seat doesn't. I'm tempted to see it again then.
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan