The team behind the hit stage production and film War Horse are reuniting to create a new interpretation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Bristol Old Vic theatre
BRISTOL will be placed firmly on the international map as the team behind the theatrical phenomenon War Horse reunite to create a new interpretation of A Midsummer Night's Dream at Bristol Old Vic.
The Old Vic's artistic director Tom Morris, Cape Town's Handspring Puppet Company and a host of other artistic heavyweights have joined forces to begin a new journey in Bristol before touring throughout the world.
Shakespeare's timeless A Midsummer Night's Dream will come to life in the intimacy of the Old Vic's recently redeveloped theatre from Thursday, February 28, interweaving the lives of lovers, actors, friends, foes and fairies.
The major new production is set in a future, primitive world in which trees and objects all pulse and tingle with the possibility of existence. A world in which, thanks to the magic of Handspring, all objects are granted the right to life.
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"We're very excited about this production," says an enthused Tom when we meet at the theatre for a coffee during a rare break in rehearsals.
"The look and the feel of A Midsummer Night's Dream is, I think, very surprising and there are moments of real visual excitement.
"From an audience point of view, I suppose it would be like you are lost in a wood and you're not quite sure what you're seeing – did that tree just move? Is that a face emerging? Is that a figure over there?"
With its spirits, enchanted woods and magical transformations, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is ideally suited to puppetry. The play also deals with changes of shape and of heart and the imagination, all rich hunting grounds for the award-winning Handspring.
"Working in this theatre over the last three years, we've found that the productions that work especially well and excite us are those that encourage the audience to use their imagination," says Tom, "and one way of doing that is using puppets.
"Devising, creating and working with the puppets has been exciting and intriguing," he continues. "These are all new puppets, of course, and we spent a long time deciding and changing our minds on how they would look. Puck for instance, has had a number of incarnations from a skeleton to a red pair of horns.
"Our actors are the first people to have worked with these puppets, so we've had to find out how they move, what their characters are, how they fit into the play... and it hasn't always been the way we thought they would. There has been a lot of change and invention."
Of course, the show has been mooted as "the new War Horse".
Co-directed by Tom with iconic equine creations from Handspring, War Horse became a runaway hit when first staged at the National Theatre in 2007. It went on to be seen by 2.4 million people around the world before being adapted into a hit movie by Steven Spielberg.
Tom is keen to stress that A Midsummer Night's Dream isn't intended as War Horse's successor. But with the same team at the helm, this is sure to be a stunning production that will hopefully garner the same global profile as its famous predecessor.
Undoubtedly, this project will send out a message about what the Bristol Old Vic and regional theatre is capable of doing on a global stage, independent of London.
It highlights that Bristol is able to create work of international impact and invite artists who could make work anywhere in the world, to come and make work here – and they'll eagerly accept.
A large part of that is thanks to the Bristol Old Vic's triumphant redevelopment, which is a huge draw, but Bristol itself has a remarkable reputation as a city capable of world class creative output.
Tom says: "It's a thrill that Handspring Puppets, and other international artists, want to come and work and experiment here. These talents are attracted by the creative city, the refurbished theatre, and also the Bristol audiences, who are excited by things that are done a little bit differently.
"Handspring love the new auditorium because you can do things here that you can't do anywhere else. They are very, very excited about it and hopefully they will come and make shows here for the rest of their careers."
Tom and Handspring Puppets first pondered this epic production of A Midsummer Night's Dream while working on War Horse in New York.
"When we started working together, Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones of Handspring Puppets told me about a production they did of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Africa 25 years ago," Tom explains.
"When we were finishing making War Horse in New York, we talked about it again and had a brainstorm about restaging the production in some way.
"I'm proud and excited to be staging A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Bristol Old Vic. For me, there is more freedom to make work in Bristol compared to London. There's more space to take creative risks in Bristol than in London."
Following its run in Bristol, A Midsummer Night's Dream will transfer to the Spoleto Festival USA and then the International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven. Further national and international dates will follow in 2014.
Tom concludes: "There are lots of people across the globe who are interested in the show, but I try not to get involved in any of that because it makes me nervous.
"I'm nervous enough about it playing here, thank you."
A Midsummer Night's Dream plays Bristol Old Vic from Thursday, February 28 until Saturday, May 4. Visit www.bristololdvic.org.uk.