Original Posting At http://virtualmethodist.blogspot.com/2019/10/offensive-shadows.html
“If we shadows have offended…”
The introduction to Puck’s closing speech in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and I am sure they did. Any Shakespeare purists, extreme prudes or those wedded to a patriarchal view of society, must have been hugely offended by Nicholas Hytner’s production at the Bridge Theatre in London, which I saw at the QFT last night as part of the National Theatre Live Screening programme (although this one was recorded)… He messed with the text, with the romantic relationships and with people’s heads… And I loved it. It was one of the best Shakespeare productions I have ever seen… It was a head on collision of punk burlesque and contemporary patriarchal puritanism… unapologetically blending Peter Brook’s iconic 1970’s Dream, with Margaret Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale” and a little bit of Dizzy Rascal… This Dream came to be in a series of beds flying in and out of a wonderfully designed, in the round/promenade/immersive performance.
The doubling up of Theseus/Oberon and Hippolyta/Titania combined with the almost wholesale swapping of Oberon’s and Titania’s lines, created an entirely fresh look at the dynamic of the play. In the recent RSC production that employed local mechanicals, I said that there wasn’t enough darkness… The problem with many other productions is that they either emphasise the darkness to the extent that it is no longer a comedy or they ignore the gender power dynamics that no longer work in the modern western world, resulting in productions that are more than a little creepy. There may be those who would object to Oberon falling for Bottom as an ass because of the homosexual overtones (lets forget about the bestiality) but have no problems with the rohypnol-like induction of Titania falling for Bottom as an ass. There are times in recent years where I have felt as uncomfortable with this aspect of one of my favourite plays, as I do with the misogyny of the Taming of the Shrew or the anti-semitism of the Merchant of Venice. Intelligent productions can subvert those issues in those latter two plays, this production cleverly addresses the glaring problem in the midst of the Dream, and indeed uses it to address the dodgy dynamic between Theseus and Hippolyta, and Egeus and his daughter Hermia at the beginning of the play. In doing so Hytner shines a light on the ridiculous and pickle nature of romantic love/lust without being cynical.
These “live” screenings can be a bit hit and miss… At best like the previous immersive production of Julius Caesar at the Bridge, or the recent “Lehman Trilogy” it gives us provincials a chance to see superlative theatre at a reasonable price. At worst, like the recent “Merry Wives of Windsor” where I slept through the first half, it is milking it… But this production is in a different class… Despite it being on screen it reminded me why I love going to and participating in theatre… In fact at times in it I felt jealous of the live audience, the actors and the director… I would love to have been there (I’m already checking to see if I can squeeze in a cheeky trip before the end of November!), but even more to have been on that stage, or have had the artistic vision to come up with what is, in my view, a Shakespeare play for this generation…
My cheeks are still sore from smiling… given the state of the world they haven’t had much exercise recently… If you can get a ticket for this in London grab it with both hands… If it comes back to the cinema again, don’t miss it… unless you are one of those in the categories that are likely to be offended…