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DIRECTOR Nicholas Hytner knows better than most how to play an audience and, after years of running the National Theatre, brings this immersive riot of a production to The Bridge with a palpable sense of freedom.
When this production first surfaced last year, it seemed apocalyptic. Now even more so, when only a curmudgeon could refuse to get lost in this beautifully acted, exuberant homage to anarchy, thrillingly designed by Bunny Christie.
We could leave it there but, as so often after a wild party, there is a time of sobering reflection. And one of the effects of viewing a play on screen is that we are no longer caught in the moment. Detached from the energy that in the live show bounces off the walls, we seem to be watching a private rave from the street outside.
And we notice things, a certain pandering to the audience is one and grabbing a quick laugh at the expense of the play’s more elevated purpose is another. Contemporary themes are writ large and 21st-century colloquialisms pepper the poetry.
But the race and gender-fluidity enhances the atmosphere and the LGBT angles it is Oberon, not Titania, who falls for Bottom — capture hearts and minds.
The music of Dizzee Rascal and Florence and the Machine sets a cool party atmosphere, while the thrilling acrobatics, glamorous fairies and flying beds together create an atmosphere of high frivolity. Hammed Animashaun as Bottom steals the show and David Moorst (Puck) creates the edgy danger of one untrustworthy ally.
All good, all captivating, but Shakespeare wrote a play that brought lasting magic to a humanity that embraces a future. This production, although a great blow-out at the time and loved by many in the theatre, might leave us deflated by a sad sort of cynicism, a kind of hangover. Maybe it reflects the times.
No matter, for above all else Hytner captures what a live production of this play might have been like in Shakespeare’s theatre — a living interaction with the audience, caught in the moment. And in that it excels.
Until July 2 on YouTube: youtube.com/watch?v=Punzss5sHto
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