Tom Morris and Handspring Puppet Company’s first venture together since their blockbuster ‘War Horse’ takes the ass to the next level.
I won’t say too much more – I don’t want to spoil it – but the means by which comedy yokel Bottom transforms into a donkey is truly gobsmacking, just one of the many delightfully surprising (if occasionally revolting) ways Handspring and Morris combine to make a supremely inventive fist of Shakespeare’s ‘Dream’.
What it’s not is ‘War Horse’ with fairies. The puppets here are smaller and a little makeshift. Puck is an oil can, basket, saw and some brushes manipulated by three actors; Titania and Oberon are carved wooden heads held by members of the company and the fairies are often simply planks of wood.
They are no less magical, however, and this ‘Dream’, enriched with earthy charm, appeals to our creative imagination something that sits very well with Shakespeare’s spirit-filled romantic comedy.
The ensemble work as puppeteers and act as humans, moving between roles with a twist of the body.
Vicky Mortimer’s workshop designs are nice, but a towering wooden wave and a huge pointless curtain give the stage an oddly cavernous feeling. The players manage to draw us in, however, and are a hoot, and the play within a play may well make you cry with laughter.
Miltos Yerolemou as Bottom deserves huge credit, not just for letting us get acquainted with his actual buttocks, but also for his deft comic performance.
The four lovers lost in the woods whose romantic escapades drive the plot are refreshingly feisty: there’s a great, attitude-ridden scene in which Akiya Henry’s excellent Hermia almost pulls Naomi Cranston’s Helena to pieces.
There’s a whole world of weird, dark and graceful creatures here, and if it’s a slightly cruel time of year to be staging this play, it should banish all thoughts of this miserable February for a couple of hours, at least.
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