Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream at Bristol Old Vic
THE beautiful refitted Bristol Old Vic was packed with famous actors and directors, national critics and a tangible excitement on Thursday, as artistic director Tom Morris’s second collaboration with Handspring Puppets (after Warhorse) was unveiled to the public.
This is a Midsummer Night’s Dream that focusses on the magic. Trees full of shadows and shapes surround the action, intrigue fills the air and lords and artisans strive for acceptance.
Warhorse, now a global phenomenon, brought puppetry to a vast new audience. People who might have admired but not been convinced by it were overwhelmed by not only the sheer scale of the horses, but the astonishing subtlety they brought to the stage.
This is not Warhorse, but once again it challenges perceptions, approaching the puppet elements from three diverse angles.
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The young lovers each has a puppet and a human form, the small versions encapsulating the hopes and dreams of their “real” characters.
The regular fairies are astonishingly inventive creations full of wit and malice. The royal fairies, Oberon and Titania, are actors carrying puppet faces at arms length - until they turn into Easter Island-scale beings in the finale.
And the “mechanicals” perform their play for the wedding party with the most rudimentary puppets, able to express emotions that Quince, Snug, Flute, etc could not.
Then of course there is Puck, that Shakespearean shapeshifter extraordinaire, depicted in artefacts and actions that keep your eyes and ears fizzing around the stage.
All this is backed by a percussive, mystical soundscape composed by Dave Price and set against Vicky Mortimer’s inventive designs.
And then there is the coup-de-theatre that is Nick Bottom the weaver’s transformation into the ass that enraptures Titania, and it would be a pity to spoil the effect!
Tom Morris’s production is a tour-de-force of invention, performed by an ensemble of 12 actors with a passionate commitment and versatile approach that shine beams of bright new light on a familiar story.
Miltos Yerolemou is outstanding as Bottom, and local audiences will see a new dimension again from Saskia Portway as the Amazonian Hippolyta, whose artistic endeavours unchain the whole story, and the lascivious Titania.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues at Bristol until 4th May, and then goes to the Dock Street Theatre in Charleston South Carolina – the first building in America designed for use as a theatre, in 1736, (28 years before the opening of BOV) and opening with a production of Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer – for the annual Spoleto Festival.