Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream is a rare puppet vision

Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream is a rare puppet vision

Robert Tanitch reviews A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Barbican, London EC2

The South African Handspring Company made their name in the UK with one of the most brilliant and memorable productions of modern times. I am speaking of War Horse, which premiered at the National Theatre and is still running in the West End. If you have not seen War Horse, you must; and please do take a teenager with you.

Handspring now turn their attention to Shakespeare’s most famous comedy.  The puppeteers, as in Japanese puppetry, remain totally visible. Oberon is just a huge mask and a huge hand. The forest is created by planks carried by the whole company. Bottom is normally transformed into an ass. Here he is transformed into a huge bottom on a bicycle trolley contraption. The theatre was filled with schoolchildren. The cruder it got the better they liked it.

Puck, the merry wanderer of the night, a shrewd and knavish sprite, used to be acted by actresses in the 19th century. It is only in modern times he has been acted by men. 15-year-old Mickey Rooney was cast as Puck in the 1935 Max Reinhardt Hollywood film.

I have seen Puck played as a panting mongrel, a commedia dell’arte acrobat, an aged Eros, a horrible schoolboy, a French contortionist, a sexy leprechaun, a Belfast urchin, a Pulman porter, a giddy goat, a moustached genie with a Mohican haircut, a middle-aged satyr and as a bloke, with a hairy chest, who was wearing a tutu and brightly coloured stockings.

However, this must be the first time he has been played by a lot of junk (oil can, basket, etc) and three puppeteers. It doesn’t work. Puck is no longer a comprehensible character. Tom Morris’s production has some funny moments, but it does not do justice to Shakespeare’s play.

To learn more about Robert Tanitch and his reviews, click here to go to his website.