S4K's Tempest - The Public Reviews Review **** Jan 13

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THE TEMPEST

Writer: Julian Chenery and Matt Gimblett (based on play by William Shakespeare)

Director: Julian Chenery

Musical Director: Mike Webborn

Reviewer: Hannah Hiett

The Public Reviews Rating: ****

tempest-image-small.jpgS4K’s panto-Disney-musical version of The Tempest brought the house down. Primary school-age children filled the Lowry’s Lyric theatre and through the first half of the two-hour performance you could have heard a pin drop they were so rapt. In the second half of the show, warmed up and settled in, the new-to-Shakespeare audience were clapping their hands in time to the music and swaying their little arms in the air to their new favourite numbers en masse, hundreds of them.

Not only were these children stunned into respectful theatre-going behaviour they were inspired to respond, engage and delight in S4K’s super high-energy re-working of Shakespeare’s classic tale of betrayal, magic, love and forgiveness.

Some adult audiences may be reasonably concerned that a children’s musical version of Shakespeare’s play may be stripped of much of its power and tension. And to this I can only say that, while it is no longer is the brooding, vengeful production popularly depicted as Shakespeare’s original, its irreverence, playfulness and humour is 100% true to the Shakespearean spirit. Claire Coultrey’s characterisation of Prospero’s fairy slave Ariel seemed a cross between a panto Tinkerbell and Ab Fab’s Bubble – down to the broad accent, eccentric costume and irrepressible cheerfulness. The bitterness of the adult version of Ariel was nowhere to be seen but her performance won over her audience entirely and hers was the biggest cheer as the bows were taken.

Lines and shades of Shakespeare’s text are used in this new, simplified script by Julian Chenery and Matt Gimblett. The language of Shakespeare is accessible without being forced to give up its lyricism entirely – striking that compromise is a commendable achievement and Chenery and Gimblett are to be warmly congratulated.

Noel Andrew Harron gave an excellently Gollum-like Caliban, and struck the balance between despicable and pathetic in a way that opened out the possibility of a complex character – someone neither wholly good nor wholly evil – to young audiences. The clowns, Trinculo (Gary Roe) and Stephano (Thomas Hewitt) were predictably in their element and both of their performances stood out as highly entertaining. They sent the audience mad with excitement as they scampered through the audience shhh-ing and flapping and falling over, bringing the story off the stage into the aisles.

The design of the production, unfortunately, left something to be desired – The stage looked rather flat despite the inexplicable giant books that served as the island’s landscape. The use of shifting lights across the back of the stage worked well to create a sense of atmosphere and signal time passing, but the sudden introduction of a faux-televised tv talent show to introduce the goddesses to the wedding of Ferdinand and Miranda didn’t work at all. It was, certainly, an inventive concept but essentially a weak reference to contemporary culture that brought down the generally un-patronising tone of the production significantly and seemed shoe-horned in for the sake of it. In addition, the projected text was illegible and the sequence was sloppy in an otherwise tightly choreographed and very well directed show.

S4K’s production of The Tempest is doing its job beautifully; engaging young audiences in Shakespearean drama is no mean feat and having seen the way the school groups responded to this light-hearted, funny and warm-natured musical – packed with silly songs and dodgy rhymes (villain and Milan being a personal favourite) – I am not remotely surprised that this company are in demand internationally as they embark on their Middle Eastern tour.

 
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