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‘The purest form of escapism into a world of mischief, madness and love.’
Being one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, Director Nicholas Hytner provides a unique, modern twist to the classic, successfully drawing upon comedy and darkness to create a truly beautiful and uplifting performance.
Firstly, Hytner’s experience as a theatre director is visible throughout the entirety of the play. Having served as the Artistic Director of London’s National Theatre, his knowledge of Shakespeare is in-depth, and this is clearly shown through his nuanced, risky reimagining of the play. Hytner interestingly swapped the experiences of Titania and Oberon to explore the dynamic between male and female. Importantly, this change works! It never felt uncomfortable, instead of providing a modern perspective on a host of issues relating to power.
Technically, the staging was incredible; in capturing the essence of the Globe Theatre, ‘the pit’ surrounded the moving stage with ‘the groundlings’ often being engaged with by the actors. This provided a great sense of intimacy that made the moments of comedy all the more hilarious and the moments of sadness even more upsetting. This moving stage provided a hectic atmosphere to the play, which supported the weirder aspects of the story. As it is a magical play, the fairies spent most of their time aerial dancing which, rather than being a gimmick, really contributed to the dream-like state being created.
Hytner was influenced by ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, and this is starkly seen in the opening act of the play; the dark, patriarchal world of Athens sets a cruel tone to the play which seeks to emphasise the initial hopelessness of women. This makes their liberation in the magical dream world even more special. The use of deep greens, lights and sparkle takes you to another world where the roles of power are reversed — this sharp contrast made for an explosion of life on stage.
Gwendoline Christie is most famous for playing the loyal and honourable Brienne of Tarth in HBO’s Game of Thrones; this makes her performance as the mischievous Titania even more fresh and exciting. Even though she is arguably the most significant name in the cast list, all actors meet the same high standard. Oliver Chris is able to provide an emotional performance as Oberon yet can easily switch to become a comedic figure. David Moorst gives a twisted portrayal of Puck, really utilising the stage and the aerial ropes. Hammed Animashaun is a scene-stealing Bottom; the relationship between Bottom and Oberon is truly fantastic, and both actors utterly commit to bringing this remaster of the original script to life.
I found the modern twist to the play incredibly engaging; my only other experiences of Shakespeare have been studying his work in scrupulous detail to a point where all fun had been removed. To me, the tweaks to the script and the more modern setting engage a younger audience and allows for the exploration of new themes thought unimaginable at the time Shakespeare was writing. This play has openly gay relationships, female empowerment and male vulnerability – this brings Shakespeare’s work into a modern world.
Some would say the modern twists dilute the themes of the play, but I would argue that including a Beyoncé dance party before the interval is the best way to engage those still traumatised by GCSE English. Although sometimes difficult to grasp the meaning of every sentence, this fear should not put you off seeing it. Hytner’s production provides the purest form of escapism into a world of mischief, madness and love.