‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ with Puppets at The Broad Stage

by Tracey Paleo, Gia On the Move

“I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was.” ~ Bottom

I won’t mince words here. I’m no bard. I’ll get right to the point.  The current production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, CA, from the creators of War Horse, is the most inspired, hilarious, wicked, spot-on presentation of a classic that a visiting company has dared to offer.

Seamless to the core the actors ravished the language and milked the comedy thoroughly. The bonus was the masterful un-traditional puppetry that added extra flavor, punch and mystique to an age-old favorite.  How will we ever be able to experience this play again without the artistic exactitude and sheer outlandishness of this wildly colorful bent?

British Theatre Company Bristol Old Vic has teamed up once again with the Handspring Puppet Company of Capetown, South Africa, foremost in its home country, for a newly imagined, bawdy Dream adapting this classic archetypal story of love, into a heady sex-capade, flighty, robust and poetic.   With the permission of the Broad Stage, boundaries are pushed and shape-shifted altogether as spritely as the weirdly acquired fairy band and the king and queen who voluptuously rule them. Without giving away the absolutely stunning surprises of this show, let’s just say, it’s not exactly g-rated and that made this rather fervent rendition so dirty and delicious.  But don’t worry. Every bit of  Shakespeare’s classic is intact. It’s just so much more.

Finally, the unexpected has happened and it is glorious!

To note: this is actually a remount.  The original performance took place at the Bristol Old Vic between February 28 and May 4, 2013.

It may be bold to say, but as a common rule Brits and those who study under their traditions, typically, are devotees of language and the masters of lingua franca where projection, articulation and intelligibility are concerned.  So very boldly, it should be noted that the Bristol Old Vic cast had no problem “crushing it!” There was not a word, a moment, a joke, a jest, a threat, wish, want or need left to linger in the minds of the audience.  Every bit of the vocabulary and intent was crystal clear making this cast perfectly understandable and therefore the play deeply divine in all its extensions.

The curiosity of this particular production is that none of the actors had any prior experience with puppetry and not only learned the lines but the choreography of their wooden and metal toys. The result was an extraordinary realization of decadent possibility immersing the audience into a blurred reality. The surprises of this superb and very groundbreaking exposition will take your breath away.

As for the familiars…intact is the biting mischief of puck who no longer takes human form but is reduced to a lively, mechanical, little set of garden-instruments.  It is quite ingenious how he is made to take on dog-like characteristics with barely anything that resembles a mammal in symmetry yet perfectly prances, cows, barks, licks, runs, flies and still performs human tasks at his master, Oberon’s command, badly of course, hence the lovers’ comedy.

Oberon and Titania stand as statuesque god-like giants among men and women in their new form, imprimiting an unmistakably mythological, all-encompassing, “forces of nature” tone to their exits, entrances and fairyland stand-offs. It’s eerie, potent and regal.

As for the rest of the attending spirits, they are an assortment of childlike, cupids and what nots, some even scary to behold, entirely loyal to their respective celestials and free as the wind.

Theseus and Hippolyta remain ever the solid reason of all of the characters. Tending to be stoic in other productions their love play is just that. In public Theseus is every bit the ruler of Athen’s and Titania his war won prisoner.  But in private he is a blocked lover whose furtive almost boyish romantic advances are cooly met by fairy queen worshipping Hippolyta in a flirtatious duel, offering a delightful side of a relationship that is not so written in the lines.

The lovers true to form quicken the chase as a rather infantile set of teenagers roaming the forest fighting over each others’ affections as one would expect to witness at a high school sports brawl. They are each quite naive and entertaining.

But oh, The Mechanicals!

There may have never been a production since the inception of the work that The Mechanicals have not stolen the show.  And this was a show-stopping show-stealing performance to surpass all — especially that of Bottom.  These clumsy well-meaning working class gents are perfectly sublime, passionate and frighteningly funny. Their antics and idiocy know no bounds.  But Bottom’s transformation is taken to a thoroughly shocking height in gut busting, unbelievable theatricality.

If you’ve never heard and seen this play before rather than explain it here, a link has been included for your perusal.  And whether you have or have not experienced it for the first time, this will undoubtedly be your FIRST.  Every actor shines with his or her own particular brilliance. Every moment is truly magical!

It is a limited run showing only until April 19th.

Directed by Tom Morris

The cast in alphabetical order:

Saikat Ahamed: Snug/Puck
Colin Michael Carmichael: Quince/Peasblossom
Naomi Cranston: Helena
Alex Felton: Lysander
Fionn Gill: Snout/Puck/Moth
Akiya Henry: Hermia
Christopher Keegan: Flute/Philostrate/Cobweb
Kyle Lima: Demetrius
Saskia Portway: Hippolyta / Titania
David Ricardo-Pearce: Theseus/Oberon
Lucy Tuck: Starveling/Mustardsee
Miltos Yerolemou: Bottom/Egeus

One response to “‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ with Puppets at The Broad Stage”

  1. Get Ready for LA Puppet Fest 2014 April 1-13 – Gia On The Move Avatar

    […] a fair amount of companies who are masters in puppetry from the Broad Stage for Handspring’s, A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Rogue Theater to the Hollywood Fringe […]


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