Stage review: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Barbican
A Midsummer Night's Dream
For such a fantastical production as this collaboration of Bristol Old Vic and Handspring Puppet Company, director Tom Morris still finds moments to be very literal.
For his version of Bottom as an ass is, well, Bottom as an ass. Or an ass as Bottom. Pretty much the same thing which ever way you turn it - which is what marvellous Miltos Yerolemou is required to do in a four-wheeled contraption which places ears on his feet and a tail on his nose.
Meanwhile his dancing derriere is there to be loved by the Titania (Saskia Portway) - under the influence of a love potion - and coddled by flitting puppet fairies.
This is the team that brought to life the War Horse and this mangled quadruped feels like a raspberry to that newly-crowned national treasure.
Such an irreverent approach drew gasps and laughs which was the soundtrack of this superb production.
It is not hard to imagine that this - a squealing and squirming Barbican - was how the original was received.
Not in this interpretation, of course, but in its impact. In a world where midsummer was a time of folklore and trepidation and Shakespeare's vaulting imagination was Elizabethan CGI, this production was its equivalent to modern eyes. A haunting, off-kilter escapist delight.
Titania and Oberon (David Ricardo Pearce), eight feet high, were wooden heads and limbs for most of the play but this made them fairy royalty, not actors playing such things.
The "planketeers" (the cast doubling as puppeteers throughout) turned offcuts into forests, feathers, instruments, weapons, bowers.
And funny too. Shakespeare's comedies are often rendered cumbersome to modern ears but the Rude Mechanicals were end-of-the-pier hysterical, their production of Pyramus And Thisbe a possible lucrative spin-off when this run is done.
Even the quartet of lovers, whose passions were mingled by mischievous Puck (a loose conglomeration of "found" objects) had high comedy moments with Hermia's (Akiya Henry) trash talk to rival Helena (Naomi Cranston) revealing the venom beneath the maiden's virtue.
This ensemble with its effortless chemistry and acute sense of mischief "dropped the liquor in our eyes" and made magic happen here.
Until Feb 15, Barbican, £16-£35, barbican.org.uk