A Real Midsummer Night’s Dream

So last Thursday I went to the live screening of A Midsummer Night’s Dream knowing it was going to be good because of the rave reviews but not realising just how good. Wish I’d been able to see it live and immersive. I liked the way Nicholas Hytner referenced Peter Brook in the interview and how he used that production – which he had loved so much that it had frightened him away from directing that particular text – as a building block upon which to create something else. It was a Brook-like Dream for a modern age. How do I know – well, like Hytner, I was at that production in Stratford in 1970/1 (can’t remember which year now, but it was towards the end of my time as a student at Exeter university). It was the most wonderful piece of theatre I had seen to that date and, like Hytner, I’ve never forgotten it.

Brook asked the question, what are we when we are asleep? His Theseus and Hippolyta wore loose robes which as they closed their eyes for sleep slipped gracefully off them and puddled at their feet. Underneath they wore the costumes of their fairy counterparts. The idea of having the court doubling as fairies was one of the things adopted by Hytner, and the idea of what are we when we are asleep is given enormous comic impetus. Using beds as scenery was masterly in this modern take, especially as a way of disappearing as Puck does by jumping through a mattress. The scenic device kept the idea of sleeping and dreaming to the fore as well as emphasising the sexuality inherent throughout.

Hytner credits the aerial acrobatics of Brook’s original but took it to another level with sexy athletic fairies and a masterly Puck, who like the lizard or chameleon he was based upon (slow blinking eyes, flickering tongue, contortions of the feet and toes) hung and twirled on his trapeze playing with his fingers and toes in an uncannily prehensile way.

The end of Brook’s first act had a red nosed Bottom lifted triumphantly on high by the fairies, one of whom stuck his arm ending with a closed fist through Bottom’s legs like a vast erect phallus. At the time it was the funniest and most shocking thing I’d ever seen on the stage (and this was the old main stage at Stratford before modernisation). Never before had I experienced so many in an audience who stayed in their seats throughout the interval enjoying banter with the fairies who were sweeping the stage clear of confetti and nuptial flowers. Never before had I experienced such a joyous ending either, where the whole cast came down into the audience and congaed around the auditorium with the audience climbing over the seats and joining on. How Brook would have enjoyed Hytner’s joyously immersive ending. Maybe he saw it, who knows? Thanks to Hytner for his tribute to Brook which has given us a Dream to stay in the memory of all those who saw it…