First, let me say that this was monumentally better than reading the play on paper! The creation of an engaging and unique show is difficult with such an old and re-used play, but this was a stunning rendition of Midsummer Night’s Dream.
To preface, this show would not have been enjoyable had I not known the storyline beforehand. The accents of the actors (all from England) on top of the Shakespearean language made it difficult to understand the show. So, I would not say this show is accessible to everyone, only those who have a prior knowledge of the play and of Shakespearean speak. That being said, the entirety of the performance was absolutely amazing- beautiful, witty, and unusual.
The set of the play was a theater in the round, with people standing directly around the stage and occasionally partaking in the show. I believe these people represented an old style of theater, where those who could not pay for actual seats could stand and watch the show from right up close to the stage. The actual stage itself was several platforms, which rose and lowered to fit the scene. Props were minimal; most of the show took place on several beds. This was more than enough, however, because the acting did not need props in any way. Their performances were fanatical and emotional, and they were very much able to use the difficult language in interesting ways. They emphasized just the right words to make their speech understandable, as well as funny. The incorporation of humor was most brought across by their dramatic movements, and each character was truly humorous in their own way.
I really enjoyed the addition of arial hammocks to the show, which are thick cloths hung from the ceiling that look similar to swings. All of the fairies, including Puck and Hippolyta (the forest queen), used these arial hammocks hanging from the ceiling, and Puck did some very cool tricks on the hammocks. There were flips, spins, swinging, and more. We found out during intermission that he had only been training for a few months, which was very impressive. This gave the show a really otherworldly feeling, and helped make the fairies look more magical, because they were “flying” as they spun and went up and down in the hammocks.
The costumes of the cast were also very interesting, as it was a mix between modern dress and very mythical or Athenian clothes. For example, when Hermia and Lysander fled to the forest, they wore old fashioned pajamas and plain garb, but carried a very modern looking backpack. I also really loved the dress of the fairies, as well as the dress of the king and queen of the forest. They wore many colors, based in green (as a representation of forestry, I assume) and were all covered in sparkles. Since the stage was mostly sparse, it helped the actors in their colorful costumes stand out even more.
What I really liked the best, however, was the fact that it was a live showing. This affected several parts of the viewing experience, most of all making it feel like the audience was about 3 times as large as our audience in the theater. This made the laughs bigger, as well as the applause, and it helped create the experience of being in a theater, which is what I think the makers of National Theater Live were intending. It also made the show more unique and interesting, as there were several moments where actors broke character, or interacted with the audience, which would not happen in a movie.
I would recommend anyone who does not have the ability to see a play live in a theater to try and attend a showing like this, because it was a fantastic alternative to seeing the play in theater. As we were viewing it from a camera, we got all the best views, since they could switch to different perspectives, as well as zoom in for close ups of the actors to see all of their facial expressions and movements perfectly. The fact that it was in the round was also not an issue, as we always had the best angle. This was a fantastic live performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I would encourage everyone to keep their ears open for the next National Theater Live’s performance so they can also attend one of their great events.