It’s challenging to breathe fresh new life into interpretations of this stock summer production. Even the innovations director Nicholas Hytner introduces, like swapping Oberon and Titania’s lines, aren’t quite enough to make this play feel a part of our present moment. The ‘millenial’ musical interludes and dance moves chosen to show the production is down with the kids these days feel dated (by which I mean they resonate with me which means younger and hipper viewers probably think this is a retro-classic production.) The Bridge is usually configured as a traditional thrust stage but this production has opted for seats on all four sides with interactive ‘promenade’ audience members in and around the stage area itself. While aspects of this are pleasingly dynamic, there are still long stretches where the action is mostly pointed towards what would be the usual front of house. Those in the extra 4th wall of seats, or with promenade tickets who do not choose their vantage points tactically, will mostly be seeing the actors’ backs.
There are compelling parts. Especially strong are the moments drawing parallels between the caged Hyppolyta, the Amazonian queen forced to marry her captor, & threats to Hermia’s life if she does not submit to her father’s wishes. Emphasis on the capricious enforcement of law by men in charge of its keeping also gives pause to those watching the current political climate. Much of the promotional material buzzes about the production highlighting the imminent perils of climate change but there is really only one speech about strange weather phenomena between Titania and Oberon and there is no visual reference to it at all, a surprise in a production that makes bold design choices in other ways. The performances are energetic and expressive, particularly the ‘rude mechanicals’ who also provide a layer of grounding and realism.
The frivolity and fantasy of the fairy kingdom is sumptuously performed and the acrobatics add an enjoyable touch of razzle dazzle. (And Gwendolyne Christie will always be my Amazon Queen, but that would be true without this production.) But all in all the whole thing feels a bit thin: like the enormous glowing beach-ball moon which bounces through the crowd at the end, it is all shiny but with little substance.