A Late Winter Night’s Dream: Handspring Puppet Company bring “Horse”-power to the Bard, through March 15

amidsummernightsdream1Alas, poor Nick Bottom – A bumbling ass who is made a literal one by fairies in William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Hurray, Sir Nick Bottom- A biped who is given the gift of additional legs and dimensions thanks to the world-famous Handspring Puppet Company’s production of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” which will run at ArtsEmerson’s Cutler Majestic Theatre Theatre through March 15.

While this play has been produced countless times around the world, this new production truly is “new” in that it reunites the award-winning team that brought “War Horse” to the stage.

When asked what made him choose this play and this time to reunite with Director Tom Morris, Handspring Co-founder and artistic Director Adrian Kohler explains that “Dream” had been in discussion since 2008. “It took awhile for things to fall into place,” Kohler recalls. “Once he had made the move to The Bristol Old Vic and could concentrate on his new program plans could begin to be developed.”
While “War Horse” is still in production and still garnering raves, Kohler suggests that the job of the producer is to produce and that it is nearly always time to consider the next production. “Moving to something new is what you do in this job,” he observes.

As for how he chose this particular play, Kohler says that he and his colleagues are “always keen to test what puppets can handle in the theatre,” so what better challenge than Shakespeare? As “Dream” is “full of fantasy elements,” he says it seemed “the best choice. Shakespeare is a challenge that lurks for any performer.” He cites such prevalent questions as, “Is it too difficult? Do you or don’t you go there?”

“We went there,” he smiles.

As “Dream” is both oft-produced and uniquely complicated, Kohler realized the potential pitfalls involved with mounting a new production. “In the UK… at any given moment there is probably a production of ‘Dream’ within driving distance of you no matter in which part of the country you live in,” he notes. “That was a daunting realization!”
However, he advises, by taking the play as a play and preparing for it as he would for any other, Kohler and his talented team were able to “get over that, study the text, get together in a workshop and find out with the rest of the creative team, what in the play speaks to you.”

While the fantastical elements can pose problems for other productions, Kohler sees his team as uniquely situated for them. “Giving form to magic that a contemporary audience can recognize in some way is the challenge of the play,” he admits, but suggests that using puppets puts their “particular magic at your disposal” and that, just like Shakespeare’s fairies, “the puppet can take on any form, can fly through the air with impunity.”

While this may be the first puppet-performed production of “Dream” for many people, Kohler explains that it was actually inspired by another. “Long ago…we saw a brilliant production of  ‘Dream’ by the renowned Czech puppet Company Drak at the International festival of puppet theatre in Charleville-Mezzieres in France,” Kohler recalls. While inspired, Kohler admits that his first inclination was to take the play off their list of potential productions as they would only end up copying and falling short of the brilliant Czech production. When the idea refused to fade, however, Kohler and his colleagues revisited it years later. “We sat down with Tom and studied the original play,” he recalls, ad with the starting premise that “every object has the right to life,” they began with simple wooden planks in the puppets’ places and eventually put together the present production.

That his performers can make something so magical out of simple planks of wood suggests that they have a bit of magic (and a great deal of commitment) in themselves. “When a scene takes place between a puppet and an actor,” Kohler suggests, “the actor has to treat the puppet as an equal. He or she is assisting the audience to make the imaginative leap.”

With how cold it has been lately, we could all use a bit of midsummer. So sprinkle on some fair dust and leap to the Handspring’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Tickets: $89-25.  Thursday-Sunday, first week, Wednesday-Sunday second week. Check website for times.

– Matt Robinson

219 Tremont St, Boston, 617-824-8000 https://artsemerson.org/