Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bristol Old Vic

8 03 2013

When Bristol Old Vic artistic director Tom Morris and Handspring Puppet Company’s Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler first announced that they were making a version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with puppets, they employed a pair of actors on stage to breath life into two breeze blocks.

The breeze blocks have since been replaced by planks of wood, but they most certainly still have life; becoming over the course of this production waves, a ship, trees, a pack of hounds and more.

It only takes a spade, a saw and a blow torch to make a whole host of other animals from a slug to a horse that all become the shape-shifting sprite Puck, created by three company members.

And as for Bottom the donkey – he is an absolutely extraordinary creation teetering on the edge of vulgarity, made up of bicycle wheels, pulleys and little dignity for the actor inside. No simple bunny ears for the Handspring Puppet Company.

A Midsummer Night's Dream Bristol Old Vic - Kyle Lima (Demetrius) and Naomi Cranston (Helena) - photo by Simon Annand

There are puppets here of all shapes and sizes, from the height of a forearm to double the height of a human, or three Hermias. The skill of Morris and the team has been to intertwine people and puppets so that they become integral but never distracting.

Sometimes the more elaborate puppets become their human counterparts’ subconscious, doing things they would not dream of doing in their own Shakespearian reality. At other times the simpler puppets add life to proceedings that the actors by themselves simply would not have been able to achieve.

There is magic at work here in a production where a lot is at stake. This is Morris and Handspring’s first collaboration since War Horse so the expectation for another smash hit is huge, and thankfully apart from the magnificent Miltos Yerolemou’s derriere there is not one bum note.

A Midsummer Night's Dream - Saskia Portway (Titania) and company - photo by Simon Annand

Joyous moments include Saikat Ahamed’s Puck transforming from Bangladeshi to lion; jellyfish made out of cloth majestically appearing at the back of the stage; a hilarious fight scene between Helena (Naomi Cranston) and Hermia (Akiya Henry); and a break dancing spirit; Also, never before have I ever felt so sorry for a wall.

This is a production rooted in Bristol, with many Bristol actors on stage who theatre goers will recognise from shows across the city, as well as too many integral behind the scenes names to mention.

One to mention, however, is Vicki Mortimer’s set design which features some lovely touches and is dominated by a huge wooden skeleton through which light is shone to dazzling affect. Morris’ direction ensures that the whole depth of the Old Vic stage is employed, and its width too with one character diving into a box when in peril.

Many of the puppets’ eyes here seem to sparkle, and that’s exactly what this new production does. This is Bristol at its world-class best.

A Midsummer Night's Dream at Bristol Old Vic - photo by Simon Annand

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is at the Bristol Old Vic until May 4. For more information, visit



2 responses

10 04 2013
Gilbert Jackson

This was awful, The puppets were irrelevant to play unlike Warhorse.No I am afraid this did not live up to expectations.The theatre was half empty, We had a whole row to ourselves.

12 04 2013

I thought Puck was a brilliant invention – so flighty and magical, disappearing and appearing whimsically. The character became almost like a chorus for the show. All in all a great production, although the more conventional puppets became somewhat redundant.

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