A Midsummer Night's Dream, Bristol Old Vic
Monday 11 March 2013
There are some lovely things in it, and there's one riotous surge of profane comic energy, but a faint sense of disappointment lingers over this much-anticipated reunion of director Tom Morris and South Africa's Handspring Puppet Company, the team that conquered the world with the wondrous War Horse.
My complaint is not that the complex puppetry – those intricately articulated and imposing wood-and-leather equine creatures – deployed in the latter has been replaced here by a calculatedly more rough-and-ready approach with much use of found objects. That's fine. And their policy of creating a stage world that plays on our deep-seated animist superstitions, so that we are persuadable that anything can become anything else – this offers, potentially, a rich way into a comedy where the human and fairy worlds unsettlingly intersect and where magic juices play havoc with rational perception.
The problem is that, in practice, the idea works only fitfully – some aspects almost soar; others sag. When they are not playing individuals, the engaging company portray the Athenian forest by moving about holding pieces of wood of uneven length. So far, so drama school.
But there are moments of eerie delight as when the actors, playing the fairies (who can shift in a trice into the mechanicals) start to tap softly on their respective planks and a flutter of sounds at different pitches gradually assembles into a syncopatedly seductive lullaby.
I loved too the notion of having Puck incarnated as a whizzing swarm of oil can, basket and saw. He's like a smart-ass rebuke to the mechanicals' incompetence at representation. And talking of smart-asses, I will not give away the uproarious depiction of Bottom as a donkey other than to say that the filthy-minded might wonder if there's a reference to War House here that's in every way cheeky.
But in my mind, it's a real mistake to give the well-acted young lovers inert-looking mini-doll versions of themselves that they are required to manipulate while speaking. Even when the workings of the drug set up some justification for a case of alter ego all over their faces, it's still laboriously handled. I found myself thinking heretically of where this tactic might end – a production of Beckett's Not I where the Mouth now has a Hand that symbolically throttles a Sindy-surrogate?
I should add that at the matinee I attended, the show entranced a packed audience of a very wide age range.
0117 987 7877
TV reviewBroadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair
Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere
TVThe Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Avengers: Age of Ultron: Nearly 700 German cinemas refuse to show movie
- 2 Donald Trump decides that Baltimore riots are Barack Obama's fault
- 3 X Factor in crisis as numbers of people auditioning plummets
- 4 General Election 2015: Stephen Hawking says he will vote Labour
- 5 Baltimore riots: Furious mother marches her son home live on TV
Fast & Furious 7 overtakes Frozen to become 5th highest grossing movie of all time
Poldark finale review: How a costume drama became a Sunday night swoon-fest
Avengers: Age of Ultron: Nearly 700 German cinemas refuse to show movie
Game of Thrones season 5: Episode 4 preview clip presents the Sand Snakes as HBO reveals new titles and synopses
The Visit: Watch terrifying trailer for M Night Shyamalan's latest horror film
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
EU exit would hit UK economy much harder than neighbouring countries, study finds
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Phantom of the Opera writer mocked after issuing a warning about Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon
General election 2015: Labour will toughen hate crimes legislation surrounding Islamophobia