I didn’t plan my theatregoing particularly well when I booked three different productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream over a three-day period. Luckily, they were all good enough and different enough to be worth seeing, and kept me interested throughout.
The unique selling point of this production at the Barbican Theatre was that it involved puppets. Co-created by Handspring, the same team who worked on War Horse, the production uses them to great effect: Titania and Oberon are performed by two actors (an excellent Saskia Portway and David Ricardo Pearce) with wooden heads, and an entourage of wooden fairies, including some rather terrifying marionettes. Puck is created from a number of everyday items including an oil can and a garden fork, a rather sweet but mischievous and naughty little creature. And Bottom’s transformation is one of the cleverest I’ve ever seen, making use of a wheeled contraption and giving a whole new meaning to the weaver’s transformation into an “ass”.
The cast don’t rely on the puppets to entertain, however. Even without them, this is a strong and well-acted production. The four young people are lively and spirited, with Alex Felton in particular giving a very funny performance as Lysander, and Akiya Henry as a marvellous Hermia, particularly during her impassioned speech to Helena in the second half. Out of his donkey ‘costume’, Militos Yerolemou as Bottom still gives an entertaining performance, which reminded me of nothing as much as Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots from the Shrek franchise. Though the play runs to nearly three hours, I was never bored – it kept me entertained from beginning to end.