The audience at The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, were treated to a uniquely unusual evening out last night as Oddsocks presented the timeless Shakespeare classic 'The Tempest'.
Those of us who were familiar with the musical sci-fi take on the play 'Return To The Forbidden Planet' were not too surprised to see the cast dressed as members of the Star Ship Enterprise, but it is fair to say that Oddsocks definitely put their own stamp on what is reputed to be The Bard's last play. The music was there, as was the sci-fi, but it was most definitely an inceptive version which still used the original Shakespearean text whilst having all the other elements too.
It was a little startling to have settled into one's seat expecting the opening lines of this well known play, only to be greeted with the cast performing the musical classic 'The Final Countdown'! It certainly made the audience sit up, and reiterated the fact that this was indeed going to be an original interpretation.
Just six cast members played all the characters and in the main this worked in terms of the speed with which they swapped characters and costumes. The futuristic set, which remained static throughout, aided this process, and was designed most cleverly to allow the cast (particularly Ariel) to move up and down, in and out, and to perform the music on stage.
The play is set on a remote island, which is inhabited not only by the Duke of Milan, also the sorcerer Prospero, and his daughter Miranda, who landed there accidentally after being exiled, but also by some other interesting characters in the form of Caliban, a half human, half monster character, a drunken butler Stephano and a court jester Trinuclo. The Queen of Naples, Alonsa, her son Ferdinand, her brother Sebastian and Prospero's brother Antonio, who seized his Dukedom, are shipwrecked on the same island. They are separated on purpose by the faithful spirit Ariel,who serves Prospero, and Alonsa believes her son is dead. He in turn meets Miranda and they fall in love.
The play dips in and out of all the usual Shakespearean plot and sub plot lines of love, betrayal, people in disguise, master and servant relationships, and good triumphing over evil in the end.
Andy Barrow was a convincing Prospero (and also Scottie!) and had the air of authority required for a character who has been cast out by his villainous brother, lands on a planet named Babel and then is restored to his throne of Milan at the end of the play. This evil brother, Antonio, was played by Gavin Harrison and he conveyed the necessary level of nastiness required; his portrayal had an air of the Alan Rickman role as The Sheriff of Nottingham. Alice Merivale was an endearing Miranda and also doubled as Ariel with Amy Roberts and Matt Penson, which allowed for clever costume changes and movement around the set for this faithful and devoted spirit. Miranda's love interest, Ferdinand, was played by Matt Penson, and he fulfilled the role beautifully, with a nice balance of self assurance and humble attentive lover. Dominic Dee Burch shone as the cunning Caliban and also doubled up as Sebastian, Queen Alonsa of Naples' scheming brother, and Gavin Harrison doubled up as Trinculo, who was portrayed as a Droid reminiscent of CP30 from Star Wars. He had mastered the mannerisms of this latter character perfectly, which added some pleasant humour to this part of the play. Amy Roberts' interpretation of Queen Alonsa of Naples was original and delivered with conviction, and she also doubled up as Stephanie (who was portrayed as a Geordie 'lush') and also as Ariel.
The small setting made for an intimate evening and the cast interacted constantly with the audience during the performance. There was a substantial amount of ad-libbing away from the Shakespearean text and many musical numbers (including 'I Get Knocked Down' and 'Rule The World') and sometimes these two elements detracted from the text and interrupted the flow of the story lines and the production in general. They did, on occasion, seem to bring a halt to the plot line, and maybe for the casual observer, or for someone unfamiliar with the story of The Tempest, this could make following the story difficult. Due to the size of the space, the continual breaking away from the text to ad-lib in contemporary language, the audience participation and the musical numbers made for a slightly overwhelming experience which sat a little oddly at times with Shakespeare.
However nobody could deny the casts' energy and enthusiasm and the production was received with eagerness by the majority of the audience.
The Tempest runs from Tuesday 19th – Thursday 21st June 2018 at The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry.
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