Puck on Film

by Allen W. Wright

Julie Taymor's
A Midsummer Night's Dream (2014)

Directed by Julie Taymor
Ealing Studios

Julie Taymor's A MIdsummer Night's Dream

From the stage to the screen

The original stage production ran from October 19, 2013 - January 12, 2014 as the inaugural production of the Theatre for a New Audience's new building the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Multiple nights were recorded and edited together into the film version which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014.

Julie Taymor is an accomplished stage and film director. She's best known for her Tony-awarding direction and designs for the 1997 stage musical version of Disney's The Lion King. She's also directed Shakespeare on film with Titus (1999) and The Tempest (2010).

This production has received great acclaim for its stunning visuals and immerse experience. It's one of the best-looking productions of the Dream.

Love in Idleness - the visual effects in Julie Taymor's A MIdsummer Night's Dream

Sights and Sounds: Wonders

The main of attraction of this show was the designs, special effects and lighting that Julie Taymor always brings to the party. We see the flower, love-in-idleness, bloom behind the actors. Foliage shimmers around the set. Actors in costume portray Athenian hunting dogs with astonishing effectiveness. This is a treat for the eyes.

The most dominant colour for the production is blue, which symbolizes the titular nighttime setting of much of the play's action. 

Tina Benko's Titania surrounded by sheets in Taymor's Dream

Also befitting the play's nighttime setting is the recurring motif of bedsheets that rise and fall, and envelope the cast.

The wonders that we see are backed up by the throbbing music of Elliot Goldenthal.

The thrust stage would have made the theatre-goers watching it live feel like the action was extending out to them. But the visual and aural splendour ensnares the home audiences almost as well.

Kathryn Hunter as Puck

An Uncommon Puck

The most fascinating character in the show is Puck portrayed superbly by Kathryn Hunter. I'm not sure what pronoun I'm supposed to use for this version of Puck -- he, she, they? All the pronouns sound so ... human. Puck is a role with limitless casting possibilities. All ages and races, straight, gay, bi, cis, trans, male, female or non-binary -- that's all appropriate for Puck. But usually Puck is depicted as a human. Perhaps a human with horn, but a living being nevertheless. Whereas Hunter's Puck is like a rag-doll. Puck is made up with a chalk white face, somewhat resembling Batman's arch-enemy The Joker. Hunter contorts her body in such a way that seems like a special effect. You could almost believe that Taymor cast a spell on a child's toy and brought it to life as Puck.

Taymor doesn't double-up all the fairy / Athenian court roles that is common in stage production. Oberon and Titania are not the same actors as Theseus and Titania. But Kathryn Hunter plays both Puck and Philostrate. Her Philostrate stoops from old age -- seemingly a different body, even though Puck's chalky features are hidden behind the Athenian's glasses. 

Kathryn Hunter is endlessly watchable in this.

Oberon and Titania in Julie Taymor's A Midsummer Night's Dream

The King of Shadows and Queen of the Fairies

David Harewood plays Oberon with deep-voiced authority and power. You might know him as Friar Tuck in the BBC/Tiger Aspect version of Robin Hood or the CIA chief in Homeland or as the Martian Manhunter in Supergirl. If you weren't familiar with him before, his commanding presence here would cause you to seek him out.

Tina Benko is enchanting as Titania. There are strong performances from all three of the lead fairies.

Pillow fight between the Athenian lovers

Athens is not well represented

Unfortunately, this production has a weak spot in the Athenian characters. Roger Clark's Theseus is ... well, the kind of tyrant that Bottom would play. The four Athenian lovers are largely forgettable aside from the pillow fight they have in the forest.

Okwui Okpokwasili is intriguing as Hippolyta, but we don't see enough of her.

This production clearly belongs to the realm of the fairies

Snug and Bottom in Taymor's Dream ">

The Rude Mechanicals and Tip of the Lion's Mane

Outside the fairy kingdom, it's Max Casella as Nick Bottom who commands the most attention. This Bottom isn't as blustering as some. He's more fussy -- with a voice sometimes a touch reminiscent of Woody Allen's New York whine. 

When Bottom's cronies stage an amateur production of Pyramus and Thisbe for the Athenian court, it gives Julie Taymor the chance to poke fun at her theatrical past.

Snug as a Lion

Snug the Joiner as the lion

Costumes from the Lion King musical

The costumes from Taymor's Lion King musical

Snug the Joiner's costume as the lion is a low-budget homage to Julie Taymor's Tony-award-winning costumes from The Lion King. In Snug's case, the lion's mane is made from paint brushes.

As with the 1999 film, Flute's performance as Thisbe genuinely moves the Athenian court. But I suspect we're more moved by Puck and the wonderful design work on display.

Kathryn Hunter as Puck

Concluding thoughts

There are some weak spots in the production. The acting is uneven in places.

But none of that really matters. This production lives on the strength of Taymor's gorgeous design and the pulsating music.  

And for the actors, well, Kathryn Hunter delivers one of the most original takes on Puck. And as she contorts her protean form, you wonder "how does she do that?"

Perhaps Hunter has a little bit of the Hobgoblin in her.

Where to go from here:


Cinema Broadcasts of Live Theatre

2019: A Midsummer Night's Dream (Bridge Theatre / National Theatre Live), directed by Nicholas Hytner with David Moorst as Puck

2021: A Midsummer Night's Dream (Stratford Festival / StratFest@Home), directed by Peter Pasyk with Trish Lindström as Puck



1935: A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle with Mickey Rooney as Puck

1968: A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Peter Hall with Ian Holm as Puck

1981: The BBC Television Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Elijah Moshinsky with Phil Daniels as Puck


1996: A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Adrian Noble with Barry Lynch as Puck

1999: William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Michael Hoffman with Stanley Tucci as Puck

Modern Versions

2005: ShakespeaRe-Told: A Midsummer Night's Dream, written by Peter Bowker and directed by Ed Fraiman with Dean Lennox Kelly as Puck

2016: A Midsummer Night's Dream, adapted by Russell T. Davies and directed David Kerr with Hiran Abeysekera as Puck

2017: A Midsummer Night's Dream, written and directed by Casey Wilder Mott with Avan Jogia as Puck

Cinema Broadcasts of Live Theatre

2013: A Midsummer Night's Dream (Shakespeare's Globe), directed by Dominic Dromgoole with Matthew Tennyson as Puck

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