The Tempest

April 24, 2020 | By | Reply More

★★★★☆    Virtual storm 

Live on Zoom: Ends Sat 25 April 2020
Review by Thom Dibdin

While many theatre companies have resorted to screening films of existing shows during lockdown, Banbury-based Creation Theatre has not only created a new piece of theatre but is performing it live.

The company’s co-production with Big Telly Theatre of Shakespeare’s The Tempest joins front-runners, Leith’s Village Pub Theatre with their script-in-hand scratch nights, in using Zoom to allow the show to be seen not just to local audiences, but on screens around the world.

Simon Spencer-Hyde as Prospero (with Giles Stoakley as Antonio in TV screens). Screengrab: Thom Dibdin

Adapted and directed by Big Telly Theatre’s Zoe Seaton, this is a modern-day Tempest which boldly uses the medium to its advantage rather than seeking to look at its constraints. Seaton’s innovative steps help push this into the realm of experimental – albeit safely mainstream experimentation.

Yet, at just over an hour, it is a Tempest which also has to sacrifice some of its innate majesty and magic to the process. Some might say such brevity is no bad thing: unadapted, The Tempest can drone on a bit. And, in finding a strictly modern setting, Seaton quickly cuts to the chase.

awards ceremony

Ironically, Seaton’s first act is to add a scene-setting preface, with Prospero urging Arial to deliver his enemies to the island on which he has been marooned for the last 12 years, by way of the simple trick of inviting them to an awards ceremony on a yacht.

Al Barclay as King Alonso (with snake). Screengrab: Thom Dibdin

The response of the posh Italian nobles to the invite helps define them. From Giles Stoakley as Prospero’s usurping brother Antonio, who now cries himself Duke of Milan, to Al Barclay’s arrogant King Alonso with Madeleine MacMahon as his fashionista sister Sebastianne and Ryan Duncan as his chinless wonder of a foppish son Ferdinand – whose Zoom handle is F3RDY_B4BY. Obvs!

With a bish of modern-language, a bash of audience participation – as paparazzi on the yacht or Arial’s fairy folk to help her conjure up a storm – and bosh of some very broad theatrical strokes, the stage is set for the meat of the play, taking in Prospero’s revenge, his arrangements for his legacy and all those magical flourishes.

While much of the banter between the nobles cut right back, what is immediately clear is the suitability of Zoom to this telling. The company has control of the audience’s Zoom settings – including microphones – making it is easy to ensure that the actor speaking is in picture when it comes to the main narrative.

blowing up a storm

Then, when a spot of participation is demanded, audience members can come up on screen, maybe asking Alonso a few plot-developing questions (prompted through the chat function), or blowing up a storm for Itxaso Moreno’s Ariel.

Opening all mikes makes for some great sound effects too – we help make the pattering rain before the storm or, later, the screeching and howling of the birds that drive the drunken Caliban and Trinculo across the island.

Itxaso Moreno as Ariel. Screengrab: Thom Dibdin

The social isolation issue of one person in a frame at a time is largely resolved by placing Simon Spencer-Hyde’s manipulative Prospero at the centre of a web of remote TV cameras around the island – as he sits in front of a green-screen backdrop of banked TV screens.

Annabelle Terry does an excellent job as his naive young daughter Miranda in ensuring that it appears that they are in the same room. She’s helped by Ryan Dawson Laight’s design as she dots around the island, from windswept beach back to her father’s lair.

scene-stealing

However Dawson Laight’s backdrops don’t always feel quite right – what look like abandoned hotel or industrial landscapes don’t quite fit with the swamps and forest scenery. Although there is no such problem with Al Barclay’s pet snake, which makes a scene-stealing (if incongruous) appearance wrapped around his head as Alonso’s obsequious courtier Gonzalo.

If some of the issues seem a little clunky – Miranda and Ferdinand’s romantic love scene is so close to working that it is almost excruciating – the dislocation works deliciously in some regards.

Annabelle Terry as Miranda (with Ryan Duncan as Ferdinand in TV screens). Screengrab: Thom Dibdin

Notably, the relationship between Prospero and Ariel, which is already between mortal (albeit magician) and fairy, is enhanced by their dislocation, while Rhodri Lewis’s playing with the shortcomings of green-screen technology which makes bits of him disappear, lends an authentic drunkenness to the jester, Trinculo.

However, it is Moreno’s Ariel who is easily the brightest star in this firmament. More Puckish than fairy-like, her Glaswegian-Spanish sprite has a wicked grin as she enlists her audience of fairy folk to help her do Prospero’s bidding. She also ensures that the question of whether Ariel really will earn her freedom carries a suitable edge. There is a danger that it might not happen.

a light-touch production

In contrast, PK Taylor’s Caliban doesn’t have the bite that he could have. Taylor is not well served by his backdrops and Seaton hasn’t found a fully satisfying solution for his more intimate drunken interactions with Trinculo.

Such visual criticisms are minor, though. The editing of Shakespeare’s script and speaking of his lines, once the island is achieved, ensure that this is a light-touch production with plenty in it to entertain and even more give pause for thought after it is done.

Certainly a project which succeeds on its own terms, then, and one which does so with excellent use of the limited resources at its disposal.

Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes (no interval)
Run ends Saturday 25 April 2020
Daily, 7pm. Three shows Saturday 25: 4.30pm, 7pm and 11pm.
NB: The show on Sat 25 at 11pm has been specially scheduled for American audiences for whom it will be at 6pm (EST) and 3pm (PST).
Tickets and details: Book here.

ENDS

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