A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Has there ever been such a golden age of puppetry? Now it has turned up gloriously in Tom Morris’ ground-breaking Bristol Old Vic/Handspring Puppets co-production. And what a treat it is.
Morris and Handspring’s Dream breaks boundaries refreshingly in every direction. It’s rougher, more rumbustious, ruder, more elemental than any Dream I can remember. And more life affirming.
Robert Lepage set his Dream within a muddy swamp. Jonathan Miller’s was a deeply introspective, moving and darkly funny journey into the subconscious. Morris and South African Handspring Puppets (together, the same team behind War Horse) take us further back, to prehistoric times, gods and wood: wood in all its metaphorical, musical and physical possibilities.
The lovers escape to a wood and woods, as we know, can symbolise many varieties of psychological truths. Woods can change us. Morris and Handspring turn wood into puppets but not the delicate puppetry we’ve come to recognise. These recall pre-Christian deities – wooden blocks with carved faces.
Wooden planks are precisely the source of Morris and Handspring’s greatest magic. Planks become trees, instruments, scenography – a moving, wafting background within which an extraordinary ensemble enact the lovers and mechanicals transformative dramas.
If invention and originality are the cornerstones of this production as well as its joyous multi-culturalism and devilish merriment, it is equally the performances that stand out as exceptional.
Speaking with rare clarity, persuasion and passion as well as becoming expert puppet handlers, Bristol’s young company play as if every movement is directed towards the greater whole. You won’t find a more generous Bottom than Miltos Yerolemou’s – and in this instance, the adjective is literal as well as describing his personality. Then there is the lugubrious, Tommy Cooper-faced Fionn Gill leading Saikat Ahamed and Lucy Tuck’s canine Puck – a creature made from basket, paint-burner, hacksaw and fork manipulated by all three. Akiya Henry is a definitive, fiery spitfire of a Hermia, Naomi Cranston’s eager spaniel a perfect foil as Helena whilst Saskia Portway’s Annie Lennox lookalike and David Ricardo-Pearce are very much modern humans as well as intimidating mythological figures by virtue of carved puppet faces they hold aloft.
Triumphantly transfiguring.