David Kane ’15 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
From the company responsible for War Horse comes a mesmerizing and unforgettable take on William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream featuring exuberant performances from people and puppets alike.
Bristol Old Vic in association with Handspring Puppet Company proposes a radical new vision of the classic tale of lovers and fairies in the forest. This interpretation of the play involves a stage decorated like an old workshop filled with wooden planks and random tools; when the magical characters enter, the cast picks up and uses these objects as if they’ve been imbued with magical qualities.
Instantly, a carved bust and several planks of wood become the mighty body of Titania, voiced by the same actress who played Hippolyta earlier as her human self. The blocking is so carefully organized that it’s hard to imagine three Mechanicals successfully crouching over their personification of Puck: a small body held together by random objects, like a basket. Each actor holds an object and moves around the stage with their impish character, trading his lines to give him a genderless spirit. The movement and vocal work for Puck express his spritely nature like no single human performer can. This is puppetry in the form of perfect simplicity.
The use of puppets not only brought the magical nature of the fairy characters to life, but it also distanced the idea that the audience was at a play. The ensemble carried boards and used them for around a dozen purposes: one moment, as the wings of Titania, another, as the trees of the forest, and lastly, as the hounds of Theseus. The barks and whooshes made by the cast painted images of fairies tugging the boards around and transforming them for their purposes. The cast is not dressed as fairies, and are clearly shown manipulating the props, but this itself preserves Shakespeare’s important motif of layered reality, as the bounds of the fictional world are shown but the audience is expected to meet them halfway with their imagination. This expectation can weigh on some viewers. The tone of the play jumps around from an eerie mood, to peaceful, and then to raucous. This can be jolting rather than smoothly transitional. It seems the production wishes to bring something for everyone, but a person will likely be shaken by the creepy fairy puppets that serve as the domineering figures of Titania and Oberon.
The performance of Miltos Yerolemou positively mirrors the range of the show itself: as Bottom, he is boisterous and never fails to leave the audience in tears of laugher, but he can disappear into the ensemble and dial himself down into becoming a single board in Titania’s body. If Yerolemou does not lodge himself in your memory with his antics among the Mechanicals, then his transformation into a donkey will. Overall, Handspring Puppet Company delivers. No spoilers, but it involves partial male nudity.
Music is used in tandem with the visuals in a variety of ways. Before Titania is enchanted, the cast lulls her to sleep with a percussive rhythm on their boards along with a soft lullaby. This synchronization of image and sound comprises the Handspring Puppet Company’s interpretation of the “dream” in the title. One would never imagine that the objects on the stage could be utilized for the magic of Shakespeare’s original play, but the cast of Bristol Old Vic’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream asks the audience to use their imagination and enter a collective dream that entices and mystifies.
The show runs at the Cutler Majestic Theatre until March 15. The show is 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission. Click here for more information.