A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Hugh Bonneville

Full Episode

Bonneville started his career at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park, understudying Ralph Fiennes as Lysander, one of the four lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He and Fiennes meet up again to try to untangle the extraordinary plot of one of Shakespeare’s most enduringly popular plays, a great comedy of love and enchantment.

Bonneville goes to see the play – on Midsummer’s Night – at the Globe Theatre and talks to the Globe’s Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole about its delicate balance between comedy and tragedy, the natural and the supernatural. It is thought the play might have been performed as part of a wedding celebration, and the Globe actors try some of the scenes in the stately ruins of Copped Hall right next to the site of the original structure which may have been the play’s original performance venue.

At one point of the Dream, Shakespeare has fun with his own great romantic tragedy. The play’s final scene, in which Bottom and his fellow mechanicals perform a dreadfully bad version of a Romeo & Juliet-like story, is one of the best-loved scenes in all of Shakespeare. Hugh meets up with actor David Walliams, who is about to play Bottom, and looks back on James Cagney’s performance in the 1935 film.

We see clips from the landmark Peter Brook production and the BBC’s 1980 production with Helen Mirren as Titania, and hear from director Julie Taymor, who recently staged a vivid production at the Theater for a New Audience in Brooklyn (starring David Harewood). In the deserted Globe Theatre, Bonneville muses on the play’s enduring appeal.