About the episode
Hugh started his career at the Open Air Theatre in London’s Regent’s Park, understudying Ralph Fiennes as Lysander (one of the four lovers) in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He and Ralph meet up again in the shadow of that theatre to try and untangle the extraordinary and complicated plot of one of Shakespeare’s most enduringly popular plays. On one level it’s a simple romantic comedy – but it starts with all the potential to be a great tragedy. Lysander’s love for Hermia may well cause her to lose her life!
Hugh goes to see the play on Midsummer’s Night at the Globe Theatre and talks to the director about the delicate balance between comedy and tragedy – and also between the natural and the supernatural. We tell the story that it might have been performed as part of a wedding celebration and the Globe actors try out scenes not far from where it might first have been performed.
“It's a play full of magic, mayhem, sex, drugs and donkeys!” - Hugh Bonneville
Hugh meets up with the comic actor David Walliams, who was just taking on the major role of Bottom in another new production. He also looks back at the great gangster actor James Cagney and his performance in the same role in 1935. Bottom is one of a group of workmen - “the mechanicals” - who are also major characters in this story of love and magic.
Hugh discovers references in the play to a great – and scandalous – love story involving Queen Elizabeth – and at the same time uncovers some of the technical writing tools that Shakespeare used to weave this magical plot.
The Dream is a great romantic comedy and in some ways, as we discover, it’s Shakespeare deliberately mocking his own great romantic tragedy, Romeo & Juliet. The play’s final scene in which Bottom and his work mates perform a dreadfully bad version of that tragic story for the aristocratic court of the local Duke, is one of the most well-known and popular scenes in all of Shakespeare.
My Shakespeare starts on Monday 22nd September at 9pm on Sky Arts 1 HD.