“I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was.”
—William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Bristol Old Vic, in association with Handspring Puppet Company, will present the American premiere of their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream during the 2013 season of Spoleto Festival USA. The production is director Tom Morris’ first collaboration with Handspring since their Tony Award-winning WarHorse, and the result promises to be spectacular. We are tracking the progress of this remarkable show, from development and rehearsals, to its world premiere in Bristol, its arrival in Charleston in May, and through its Festival run.

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Notes from the Creative Team

Tom Morris, Artistic Director, Bristol Old Vic; Director, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
“In many ways, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the archetypal love story, relevant in any age, a story of the folly and joy of falling in love. It’s also a play profoundly about the imagination, perfect to explore the nature of the relationship between actors (and puppets!) on a stage, and an audience in a theatre, which is where we begin with our …Dream world. It is a world where reality blurs with the mystic; a world where fairies—powerful, magical, mischievous and dangerous—are a reality; an ever-changing world of puppets (lots of puppets!) and people who fancy each other so wildly they can barely keep their clothes on.

Vicki Mortimer, Designer
What kind of world requires fairies? What kind of world can invoke forgotten barbaric customs to enforce social stability? Where are we if nature has broken its own rules, and burst the banks of rivers, reversed seasons? Perhaps we are in a world where the ways of liminal communities become the only possible structures, where the gods of a fragile survival must be invoked by the re-invention of everything we have taken for granted. Perhaps this world must take puppets and re-conjure their very nature, so that they are participants, votives, wood spirits, emotional valves, initiatory objects. And perhaps residual objects must be re-purposed—by human or fairy alike—for function and for necessary mischief.

Adrian Kohler, Puppet Conception, Design, sculpture, construction and Direction
It is an extraordinary play; it’s not a perfect play as we’ve discovered. It lets in this strange pagan energy from a very ancient time and it allows us to experience it as a romantic comedy. It requires forms of magic to tell the story, and I suppose that’s what we’ve been negotiating our way around in the pre-production and in rehearsals. I think we as Handspring construct objects that generally have a movement built into them. And Tom has taken that and said ‘well why don’t we make the whole world move, the buildings move, the walls breath’. The walls can explode out of being a room into a forest; timber walls can go back and become trees again.

Basil Jones, Puppet Conception and Direction
One of the ideas is that we are living in a world where technology has been forgotten, so there are objects from a more advanced technology that have been sometimes stolen and inhabited by fairies. So a fairy will take over an old fairground figure, for instance, inhabit it and bring it back to life. Fairies in Shakespearian times were known to steal babies, for instance, and we think of these fairies as kind of magpies at best, and thieves as worst. Which has been quite an interesting challenge for us because we are known to be people who make quite complex puppets and suddenly Tom is asking us to make an oil can or a gas burner into a living thing. It’s been a nice challenge and I think we’re making discoveries.

Read other articles in this series:

Chapter Two: No Strings Attached
Chapter Three: Dream Becomes Reality


For more information on this, and other, Festival shows, please browse the season overview.