The University of Birmingham   Touchstone
The British Library   Co-operation and Partnership among UK Shakespeare Collections.
Touchstone : Welcome
Enquiry Service
Touchstone Database
Enquiry Service
News and Events
Shakespeare in Performance
Studying Shakespeare
Shakespeare Associations
Online Exhibition


Online Exhibition


Peter Brook's A Midsummer Night's Dream 1970

The Fairies 

Brook’s solution to the problem of staging the fairies is explained in his book The Shifting Point:

Sitting with Sally Jacobs the designer, seeing Chinese acrobats, we found the key: a human being who, by pure skill, demonstrates joyfully that he can transcend his natural constraints, become a reflection of pure energy. This said ‘fairy’ to us.

The red feathers of Titania’s bower created a vivid splash of colour against the white set. The rich colours of the costumes for the fairy King and Queen contrasted with the ‘lower’ fairies and the mechanicals, emphasising their otherness.

The play’s magic was produced by circus tricks. Swings and trapezes gave the illusion of flight and supernatural levitation. When Oberon and Puck became invisible they swung above the heads of the lovers. Puck used stilts to confound the lovers as they tried to find each other in the forest.

Oberon and Puck. The magic flower, 'love-in-idleness', which Oberon sends Puck to fetch, was represented by a silver dish spinning on a rod. 
Puck on stilts taunting Demetrius. Photographer: Joe Cocks
Sally Jacobs. Production drawing of John Kane as Puck.
Oberon, Titania on bower, Puck. Applying the magic juice.
Sally Jacobs. Production drawing of Sara Kestelman as Titania.
Titania surrounded by fairies with the bower on the stage floor.
Puck and fairies, holding Free-Kas – hose like instruments. 
Titania, Bottom and fairies. 
(1962 - revival of 1959) Oberon squeezes the magic juice over Titania’s eyes. The fairies were dressed like Elizabethan masquers, but their bare legs and feet betrayed their wildness. They were portrayed as mischievous sprites that behaved like naughty children.
(1977) Puck and the fairies. John Barton’s production was a direct reaction against Brook’s, placing it in a more traditional forest setting. Some of the fairy roles were played by children, whose diminutive shape, wispy, bald heads and old men’s masks created a nightmarish effect. They appeared half-human, half-animal, and able to transform themselves into elements of the forest, rocks, and stumps. Like Brook, Barton wished to disassociate the fairies from sentimental preconceptions, but he still wanted to maintain their mystery. He called them 'a curious mixture of wood sprites and household gods, pagan deities and local pixies'.
(1977) Puck and Oberon. Oberon appeared as a potent and dangerous spirit, almost naked and armed with a magic staff.
(1981) Puck and fairies. The fairies appeared in disturbing form as hooded figures manipulating hand puppets and porcelain dolls with grotesque and menacingly blank faces. This with many other aspects of the production by Ron Daniels, betrayed a conscious artifice, with reference to ballet and magical tricks.
(1981) Oberon and Titania, “new in amity”, dance a minuet together. Compared with the grotesque fairies in this production Oberon and Titania appeared glamorous and not as menacing as the fairies they commanded. This conflict of visual signals jarred and many found it difficult to believe that this King and Queen would have such creatures in their train.
(1994) Bottom and the fairies in and around Titania’s bower. Note that in some cases the mechanicals doubled as fairies (Peter Quince on left, Flute on right). Photographer: Malcolm Davies.

To continue, select a topic:

Stage Devises The Mechanicals
The Fairies  Bottom's Transformation
The Lovers Pyramus and Thisbe
The Forest The Blessing of the House

Back to Midsummer Night's Dream exhibition home page


Maintained by: CRASH
Last updated: April 26, 2022
Designed by: DoubleK Design BOOM