BWW Reviews: Visually Stunning A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM Wows Audiences at The Broad Stage
Bristol Old Vic in association with Handspring Puppet Company presents A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM on Santa Monica's The Broad Stage through April 19, 2014. Performances on April 18 and 19 take place at 2:00pm and 7:30pm. This Shakespeare-with-puppets production is courtesy of the endlessly inventive puppet company that co-created 'War Horse.'
The play interweaves the lives of lovers, actors, friends, foes, and fairies. It is about love, transformation and survival in a place where the mystical presence of fairies isn't mere superstition, but magic lore encoded in the routines of a community living on the edge.
The production is visually stunning, blending live actors, puppets and keenly choreographed movement that breathe life into everyday inanimate objects. The puppetry involves a huge range of ground-breaking techniques and variety of creations - from the smallest mechanical creatures to the huge god-like masks and limbs that represent Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the Fairies.
What is truly remarkable is that a cast of 12 is completely able to take on all the various characters in the play, with everyone other than the four young lovers playing more than one role. Leading the way are David Ricardo-Pearce and Saskia Portway who inhabit their roles as the leaders of the Athenians, Duke Theseus and Hippolyta, and the leaders of the Fairies, Oberon and Titania. Both actors are masters conveying the regal nature of their characters, especially while inhabiting their large facial masks which seem to take on a life of their own. Oberon's large puppet hand adds to the illusion of Oberon's mighty power, and Ricardo-Pearce's fascinating coordination of words and movement were a wonder to behold.
Saskia Portway shines throughout but it is her infatuation with Bottom, the scene-stealing Miltos Yerolemou, when he is transformed into an ass (literally in a most remarkable combination of man, puppet and machine) that truly will have you roaring with laughter.
And of course there is the riotous Pyramus and Thisbe play put on by the Mechanicals at the Duke's wedding. From their first rehearsal in the enchanted forest, Colin Michael Carmichael (Quince), Miltos Yerolemou (Bottom/Pyramus), Christopher Keegan (Flute/Thisbe), Fionn Gill (Snout/Wall), Lucy Tuck (Starveling/Moonshine), and Saikat Ahamed (Snug/Lion) each actor creates such well-defined characters it is difficult to believe each also plays one of the fairies who so remarkably dance the wood planks into the enchanted forest and do their best to take good care of Queen Titania, each taking on very comical or menacing puppet Fairy.
It is the world of the Fairies that makes this production such a joy to behold. The forest is represented by actors holding planks of wood, which they often play as instruments while singing to Titania as her band of fairies. At other times, the planks are the trees under which the lovers fall asleep. The coordination of their movements overwhelmed me, taking me with them on their magical journey while the four lovers are led astray by the rascally Puck, who is played by Saikat Ahamed, Fionn Gill, and Lucy Tuck using a basket, brush, garden tools, a watering can, and other everyday objects to bring the character so alive onstage you will often forgot there are people until they spring apart and fly off in different directions at the end of Puck's scenes.
The young lovers, Lysander (Alex Felton), Hermia (Akiya Henry), Demetrius (Kyle Lima) and Helena (Naomi Cranston), begin the play very well-mannered and then proceed to get more disheveled as their paths cross and loyalties are tested. As the woods move around them, the four actors take us through some of Shakespeare's best lovers' quarrels, enhancing the humor of their misguided situation.
Costume supervisor Katerina Hicken mixes and matches modern clothing that perfectly compliments the characters' personalities from Duke Theseus' black leather jacket to the overalls and tool belts worn by the Mechanicals. Mystical lighting by Philip Gladwell adds to the other-worldly forest, and movement director Andrew Dawson and choreographer Laurel Swift are to be commended for their innovative staging of the magical world of the Fairies.
There are several directors, puppetry experts, and musical directors listed in the program, and director Tom Morris is to be commended for assembling such a remarkable group of talented people who have created the most magical A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM this writer has ever seen!
The Broad Stage is located at 1310 11th Street, Santa Monica CA 90401. Parking is FREE.
Tickets are $53-$110, available at www.thebroadstage.com or by calling the box office at 310.434.3200
Bristol Old Vic
Bristol Old Vic is a British theatre company founded in 1946. Its home is the recently refurbished Georgian Theatre, built in 1766 and the longest continuously-running theatre in the UK. The company's mission is to create pioneering twenty-first century theatre in partnership with the people of Bristol; inspired by the history and magical design of the most beautiful playhouse in the country,
This production of A Midsummer Night's Dream marks a significant step forward for Bristol Old Vic and its ongoing ambition to collaborate with world-class artists to originate work of international impact. Following its run in Bristol in 2013, the production transferred to the Spoleto Festival USA and then the International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven. It is touring to the Hong Kong Arts Festival in Feb 2014 where it has already sold out. www.bristololdvic.org.uk
Handspring Puppet Company
Handspring Puppet Company is a puppetry, performance, and design company that is based in Cape Town, South Africa. It is widely recognized as South Africa's pre-eminent puppet theatre company and spans three decades of creating theatre for adults and children. The run-away hit play War Horse has established Handspring as one of the most important puppet companies in the world. www.handspringpuppet.co.za
Photo credit: Simon Annand
The mysterious power of the woods is captured by the fairies
Titania surrounded by her fairies
Saskia Portway is Titania, Queen of the Fairies
The shadowy, mysterious world of the fairies