Magical Puppetry In A Midsummer Night’s Dream At Barbican

© Simon Annand

© Simon Annand

It can be tricky to breathe new life into a play that’s been performed countless times for over 400 years, but the Bristol Old Vic in association with Handspring Puppet Company spectacularly make it their own, with some dazzlingly fluid puppetry and visually striking performances.

When it comes to props and puppetry, a more inventive, magical and creative production would be hard to find. The highlight comes in the form of Puck, made up of old tools that are given life by a trio of actors (Fionn Gill, Saikat Ahamed and Lucy Tuck). The natural responsiveness of the movements are spellbinding enough to make you wonder if this little creature really is alive…

With audience interactions from ‘the players’ before the performance (we were thrilled when asked to read the Lion’s part), there’s a sense of fun and merriment early on, something that’s so crucial to ‘The Dream’.

However, some bits of puppetry work better than others. The lumbering masks of Titania and Oberon produce a classical, godly effect, but what is gained in the visuals takes away from the potential for expression of the characters themselves. Regardless, Saskia Portway (Titania/Hippolyta) and David Ricardo Pearce (Oberon/Theseus) are consistently strong throughout.

Miltos Yerolemou’s Bottom is phenomenal – his presence and delivery hilarious, and his transformation into the mechanical Ass (with an emphasis on ass) is jaw-dropping for its creativity, comic effect and bare cheek. Literally.

The spooky depictions of the fairies as half-imagined, grotesque creatures of the night, or of nightmares, accentuates the darkness of the wood in which the lovers are lost. The whole company moves together as one, producing some fantastic pieces of physical theatre, both visually and musically. Everything comes together seamlessly as the drama unfolds around them.

Kyle Lima’s Demetrius has a very watchable strength and sharpness, with a hint of a Welsh accent. Akiya Henry plays Hermia perfectly. The transformation from naïve lover to an enraged woman scorned, erupts with passion, resulting in screams of delight around the auditorium.

The ‘play within a play’ at the end is hilarious theatre, with Fionn Gill playing an unforgettable wall that gets more laugh-out-loud funny with each movement.

There is a lot happening with this production, and it all fits together like one living, breathing theatrical organism. Brimming over with young talent, and many faces to watch for the future.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is at the Barbican until 15 February. Tickets cost £16-£35+bf and can be booked online here. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary review ticket.

By Danny Hilton

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