A Dream Worth Believing


Staging a theatrical performance for an audience is asking them to suspend their disbelief for at least an hour and to believe every lie that the actors tell them. In a time before the helpful technology of today, Shakespeare was taking his audience from Denmark to Scotland, tossing them in raging tempests, and bringing them into the lives of well-known monarchs. Arguably, his most dreamlike and ethereal play is A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With a script that weaves between the world of mortals and immortals, it is only natural that the UK’s Old Vic Theater Company would ask the audience to go one step further with them with their use of puppetry.

The collaboration with Tom Morris and Handspring, who achieved critical acclaim for their production of War Horse, was certainly a fruitful one. The puppets range in size and style, exploring with enlarged faces and limbs and for the fairy couple Oberon and Titania and manipulated miniature creatures for their fairy subjects. The props are most successful in their most simplistic forms. Puck, the well-known sprite from the play, is represented as several household objects being manipulated by three actors. Rather than a distraction, as it could be in less practiced hands, the cartoon effect works quite nicely to amplify the humor and playfulness in the script. The most well used objects on the stage were a series of planks of wood which were at times the emphasis of the fairy queen

Titania’s grandeur, at others a moving set, and even musical instruments. Less successful is the use of an actors actual bottom to portray his transformation into an ass. The joke is certainly initially humorous, but the temptation to give into the more juvenile jokes makes it seem as though the company is suggesting that perhaps today’s audience is just not paying close enough attention to understand the humor as it was originally intended.


To remind us that we are just foolish mortals, the company blurs the line between us and them. Members of the production weave through the seats, calling to each other and speaking loudly to the audience, behaving very similarly to the way that the audience would have when Midsummer was first performed, before making their way to the stage to weave between the chorus and the roles. The double casting of the same actors to play the fairy and human royalty, king Theseus and Amazon queen Hippolyta, reminds us that there is no difference between the magic world and ours when love is involved. The shift from mortal to immortal is a seamless one; Theseus and Hyppolyta do not find resolution in their relationship until Oberon and Titania are settled in theirs. And much like Thesues must defeat Hippolytas people in battle to win her hand in marriage, Oberon must trick Titania with magic before she submits to his will and gives him a her beloved Indian boy to take as a charge. Once their reunion is settled, the act trickles down into the mortal world and “all is mended.”

Occasionally, the production gave way to the cheaper jokes, very few references to male anatomy went unexplored and un-prodded, and loud music threatened to drown out the actors voices completely. Rather than end on Pucks comforting sonnet about finding joy rather than offense in the events of the past hour spent at the theater, the final scene was one of chanting music and moving larger than life puppets. The play does not need the excuses and explanations of Pucks speech, but their absence was noticeable as they provide the final word in a dramatic dialogue between reality and fantasy. Depending on your point of view, theater can feel like a beautiful dream or a convincing lie, but this particular production was a lie well worth believing.

-Marcy Braidman

The final three performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston Friday, March 14, and Saturday, March 15. Purchase tickets here.

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