A Midsummer Night's Dream Review

This is a review of the performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by the National Theatre when it was streamed on YouTube from the 25th June to the 2nd July 2020. It was originally performed live and filmed at the Bridge Theatre last summer. 

A Midsummer Night's Dream Review

The basic storyline in this adaptation is that a Duke and Duchess are about to get married, and the father of a girl called Hermia and the Duke want Hermia to marry Demetrius, but Hermia wants to marry Lysander. Hermia’s best friend Helena loves Demetrius, so when Hermia and Lysander run away Helena tells Demetrius the plan and they follow them. Meanwhile, in fairyland, Queen Titania (Queen of the Fairies) gets her fairy helper and troublemaker Puck, to find a flower which makes King Oberon fall in love with the first thing that he sees. This turns out to be one of a group of Players, practicing a play for the Duke and Duchesses’ wedding, a man who Puck had turned into a donkey, called Bottom. In the traditional storyline, it is King Oberon that makes Queen Titania fall in love with Bottom but in this version, they decided to switch it around. I thought this worked well because they had very comic interactions. Puck is also meant to make Demetrius love Helena; however, he gets the couples mixed up and makes Lysander and Demetrius fall in love with Helena. The play ends with Hermia and Lysander, Helena and Demetrius and the Duke and Duchess getting married. Titania reverses the spell on Oberon and so everything seems like a dream to him and Bottom.

I felt absorbed in it from the start, as a group of actors trudged through the audience singing gloomily in their dark suits, and a glass box, lit around the edges, appeared from the ceiling with the woman soon to be Duchess trapped inside. I thought that this set the scene of the play well because it showed how unfair life was for women in the Shakespearean world and how they couldn’t control their own destiny. The mood of the play was first shown when the Duke told the Duchess that he loved her, and she faked a smile which turned to a grimace as he looked away. This showed that there was going to be more humour to it than a traditional performance. 

I thought that there was particularly good audience participation. For example, when Puck is going to fix up the wrong couples, he walks through the audience making remarks like “Move, you’re in the way” and “Ooh I like your dungarees” which was very amusing and made you feel a bit more part of it. Also, when a group of people are organising a play for the wedding they need a calendar, so they say to the audience “calendar, calendar, calendar”. They borrow a phone from an audience member and then give it back to them saying “unlock the calendar”. When it is unlocked, they take a group selfie which was very funny and also a great way to make the audience feel more part of the show and up to date. However, I would have liked to have been their in real life because the actors walked through the audience a lot, and at one point the audience held up a huge orange sheet and there were colorful lights and smoke which it would have been amazing to be part of.

Particularly funny moments were when Bottom has been turned into a donkey, and he is singing in a way that is good but also funny because it is quite operatic. Oberon wakes up and flicks his head up and starts to flirt in a peculiar way with Bottom and gives the other fairies twirling around his bed instructions to look after Bottom. Oberon and Bottom start dancing to “Love on Top” by Beyoncé and twirling around the edges of the bed which is so funny because the contrast of a modern song and dance moves with an old play makes it very entertaining to watch. Another part that I really enjoyed was when Oberon and Bottom where in a bubble bath together with glasses of champagne blowing bubbles at each other. A woman starts singing “Love on Top” again and Bottom joins in, singing into the showerhead and laughing hysterically, while Oberon jumps out and dances into bed.  

The play was presented in a way where the Duke also played Oberon, the Duchess also played Titania and Demetrius also played Puck. I thought this was very clever, because near the end, you could see the Duke slightly remembering something that had happened between him and Bottom and the Duchess smiling.

The use of modern language entwined in the Shakespearian language added to the humour because the characters made funny remarks. For example, near the beginning when Demetrius had just changed to Puck, he was talking to a fairy and threw his head back and laughed, saying “Lol”. Also, when Puck is meant to be giving Titania the flower, Puck says, “Where did I put that, now?”, “Ye, ye, ye” and “got ya”. Another time when they used modern language was when Oberon and Bottom had got into bed after their bubble bath and Oberon was telling Bottom about how he loved him. Bottom replied, “Not now Babe, I’ve got a headache”. Also, when Helena is cross with Demetrius she says “Let me go you’re pathetic” which was good and made it feel more modern because she stood up to him. This use of language made the play more engaging because it made it fell more real which added to the feeling that you were really there. 

I thought that it was a really good performance, however, to improve I think that the ending could have been slightly better. This is because they all had a joint wedding but they didn’t seem as excited and emotional as people would be in real life and the brides and grooms didn’t seem to interact as well as they did before they were getting married. For example, earlier in the play they were very passionate, but then towards the end they became a bit more wooden with their partners and so it came across a bit of a dull occasion.

If you are looking for a bonkers and ridiculous play to watch, then I would definitely recommend it to you. It is fun and engaging with a feminist view on Shakespearean society and involves amazing acrobatics and a range of music to draw you in. The audience participation makes it more interesting for the audience and the hilarious way it is performed provides brilliant entertainment.  

Acting, drama and language were used to bring a modern dimension to a basically traditional Shakespearian performance.

Music and singing were also involved to great emotional effect. At the start, a group of people dressed in black sing gloomily, setting the scene of the Shakespearian society. There was tense music when Hermia and Lysander ran away, and Helena and Demetrius followed them. Lysander played love songs on his guitar to Hermia and then Helena. “Love on Top” was sung when Oberon meets Bottom and when they are in the bubble bath. When Puck is going to fix his mistake, and make the right people fall in love, there are drums to the beat of Puck’s footsteps backwards and forwards to show that he is travelling. “I can see clearly now the rain has gone” is played when Titania reverses the love spell on Oberon. There is a rap song at the end that all the characters dance to.

They also used sound effects, such as the flapping of bat wings when Hermia can’t find Lysander which made it a bit eerie.

Acrobatics were a big and dramatic part of the play. Silk hammocks were used in many ways, including a throne for Queen Titania and to do acrobatics on for may of the fairy characters. In the interval, the fairies did more acrobatics for the audience to watch before the second half began. Puck uses acrobatics a lot, like he jumped through the bed to travel to a different part of the forest and when he briefly makes Lysander and Demetrius fall in love, he dangles off the silk hammock from the ceiling and shines the flower on their faces, laughing. Titania does the same to briefly make Hermia and Helena fall in love but they fix things after they have had their fun.

Dance is first used when Oberon is in bed, just before the spell is put on him, and fairies twirl around him and up the sides of the bed. Then, when Oberon falls in love with Bottom, they start dancing in a way which is quite funny to watch and you could see members of the audience start to join in. Also, Oberon dances into bed when he gets out of the bubble bath. When Titania reverses the spell on Oberon, they dance together as fairies dance in the background. All of the cast do a dance routine to a rap song at the end before taking their bows and the audience joins in, holding hands in a big circle.

When the actors audition to perform a play at the wedding, there is a fake fight which involves stage combat. Because it is meant to be pretend in the play too, it is done in a comical way which adds to the humour in the play.

The lighting and stage design were very effective in this play. It looked like there were about four stages, the main one in the middle and the characters walked through the audience to get to each of them. The stages were surrounded with the audience, standing up at the front and then with raised seating around the outside. This meant that there was not a backdrop to the performance, however they used props and lighting to show where the scene was. For example, most of the play was lit in blue and green, green for the fairies to show they were in the forest. Chairs were brought on in scenes where they were rehearsing for the wedding play, however the stage mostly just had the silk hammocks hanging down and sometimes some beds. A particular good part for lighting and design, is when Titania got Oberon out the spell and they danced together. A huge orange sheet got passed over and held by the audience, and orange and blue lights and smoke created an amazing effect. The fairies did acrobatics above it on the silk hammocks and sprinkling glitter and sparkles like fairy dust. It all looked very magical and added to the feel of being in fairy land and the love between the characters.

The costumes in the play were contemporary and showed the importance of the characters in society. The Duchess wore a long black dress, black headscarf, and red lipstick. The Duke wore a smart black suit, white shirt, and tie. Hermia wore a blue dress and a white headscarf and Demetrius, and Lysander wore jeans and plain shirt. Helena wore a floaty white dress and Bottom wore a yellow boiler suit. Puck wore a ripped vest top with jeans and had tattoos up his arms. Titania wore a long green dress over one shoulder with flowers at the top and Oberon wore a green jacket with gold patterned shoulders when he was dressed a white robe with a gold shawl when in nightwear. They showed the importance of the Duke and Duchess and Queen Titania and Oberon because their clothes were much more elaborate than the others. I thought that they were very interesting, and I loved how colourful and sparkly the fairy’s outfits were.

Overall, I would sum up the play as a hilarious and bonkers version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that is very enjoyable to watch and I would recommend it to others.

This is a user generated post from our Arts Award on Voice community and was not edited by the Voice team. We would love to hear your views too! Sign up for an account and make your Voice heard!

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Amelie Cannell

Amelie Cannell

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