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Posts Tagged ‘Handspring’

This is no ordinary A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s a collaboration between that master of invention Tom Morris (now in charge at Bristol Old Vic) and South Africa’s Handspring, the puppet people also behind that mega global hit War Horse.

Vicki Mortimer’s design is a rough wooden stage with a structure a bit like a boat hull on one side and a large hanging cloth on the other. Planks figure a lot – held by the ensemble, they effectively create the forest and the rude mechanicals use them well. The lovers carry their puppet miniature selves at the start, but they don’t keep this up (which I found puzzling). Puck is created live by three actors, a blow-torch, a saw, a trowel, a mallet & a basket (I loved this). The actors playing Oberon & Titania carry statue heads (and an arm, in Oberon’s case) and become full figures at the end (I loved this too). We don’t see much of the fairies, and then only four, but they are each different puppet constructions or, in Moth’s case, a man with a pair of fly swatters and a hat (I loved this as well). Oh, and bottom is!

It’s highly inventive but not entirely coherent and consistent. It takes a while to settle and doesn’t really take off until 10 minutes before the interval. The second half is a lot better than the first. When it works, it’s great, such as when Lysander & Demetrius tussle for Helena and then search the forest for her, bottom’s bottom stuff and the rude mechanicals’ play. It’s an excellent ensemble of twelve talented young actors, many new to me.

Go for the originality and inventiveness (and to see the superb restoration of the BOV auditorium). I certainly don’t regret it, though I’ve seen better interpretations of Shakespeare’s play.

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This is a revival of a 1992 show by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company. It’s the somewhat ambiguous expressionistic Georg Buchner play about a man’s life experiences at the hands of doctors and the military, but a nineteenth century german soldier is now a  1950’s South African miner.

Handspring are most famous for their contribution to the extraordinry (and extraordinarily successful) War Horse. This is pupperty on a smaller but realisitc scale, combined with animation. Rather than frames of characters we have fully clothed puppets on a sort of large Punch & Judy style platform, with another platform at a lower level in front. The puppetry is excellent and the animations, on a screen behind, really work well with it. There’s very good use of music too.

My problem with the show is that I don’t think much of the play and I don’t think it suits this type of adaptation. It worked better in Richard Jones terrific WNO staging of Alban Berg’s opera and in Iceland’s Vesturport’s physical theatre version at the Barbican Theatre. I’d have prefered it if they used their exceptional talents on a more accessible story; one that’s lighter in tone. That said, you have to admire the artistry and originality of this great company.

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A collaboration between South African puppeteers Handspring and innovative British theatre director Neil Bartlett seemed irresistible, and what they’ve produced is a pretty unique show with five puppets and eight performers on a bare stage in the round.

An old gay man close to death looks back on the early stages of his 67-year partnership in flashbacks. Narration is provided by the excellent Adjoa Andoh as nurse, housekeeper, solicitor and some sort of psychiatrist / psychologist giving a lecture. Puppets Mr A and Mr B have young and old versions ‘manipulated’ by the same performers, Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler, with four bare-footed puppeteer / actor ‘assistants’ dressed in black suits.

This all takes place on a bare stage with props stored underneath, handed up and down to and from actors by two visible stage managers. There are six entrances, four steps and two walkways, one through a giant rusting wall and one through double-doors.

There is some extraordinarily effective staging – swimming, a party, a squash game and a car journey – during the uninterrupted 100 minutes, but I found myself admiring the stagecraft and the creativity more than I engaged with the storytelling. It’s original and intriguing, but didn’t have as much emotional depth as I was expecting; it was as if I was a student of theatre studying it from a technical perspective.

That said, I don’t regret going and its a worthy experiment – much more so that Katie Mitchell’s pointless deconstructions. Go to admire rather than enjoy.

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