With the UK’s current lockdown now extended, there’s no telling when life will get back to normal or when theatres will reopen. Thankfully in the meantime theatres and theatre companies have come to the rescue by broadcasting some of their past works online for viewers to enjoy from home. And now Oxford-based Creation Theatre, in association with Big Telly Theatre, have gone one step further by broadcasting their latest production, The Tempest, live to the public thanks to video networking app Zoom.
With director Zoe Seaton at the helm, Creation Theatre initially staged their version of Shakespeare’s classic last summer in Oxford, and now they’ve edited the production into an hour-long interactive experience. Along with Seaton the original cast have returned to bring a shortened version of The Tempest to life, but this time they’re performing in their own homes. This new, online experience ran over the Easter weekend and was such a hit with audiences that it’s back for a second helping.
The new, stripped back version of The Tempest was put together in just two weeks in a response to the lockdown. As a result it’s a little rough around the edges, but for the most part it works, and similar to panto this unique concept is sure to entertain viewers of all ages. The show starts as the audience are introduced to the characters and given the opportunity to quiz some of the central characters (participants are encouraged to submit questions prior to the show) at an awards ceremony, before the royal party set off on a cruise. However things don’t go to plan and when a magical storm steers them off course, the passengers are scattered around Prospero’s (Simon Spencer-Hyde) remote island.
Taking part in the show is voluntary, and anyone who doesn’t wish to appear on screen can simply switch their webcams off and enjoy the action that plays out in front of them. But those who do wish to join in with the antics are commanded by Ariel (Itxaso Moreno) to help control the weather (for example, by clicking fingers to conjure up rain), and scare off the baddies by barking like dogs. There’s even a cute section where viewers are encouraged to show off their pets. It’s these moments in particular which bring a smile to your face as audience members appear on screen, a reminder that even though viewers are separated, they’re watching the show together as one.
There are one or two filmed sequences in amongst the action, but for the most part the actors are performing in front of their own webcams, with Ryan Dawson Laight’s set and virtual backgrounds aiding scene changes and also adding to the ‘magic’ (for example when Trinculo (played by Rhodri Lewis) entertains with his disappearing wine bottles). Despite the actors all being in separate locations their interactions still work, and there’s a particularly clever moment involving a split screen as audiences see the relationship develop between Ferdinand (Ryan Duncan) and Miranda (Annabelle Terry). With The Tempest focusing mostly on one actor at a time, it allows you to focus on their performance In particular without any distractions. And the cast of nine all put in admirable performances. In particular Simon Spencer-Hyde is a strong Prospero watching over the island via a bank of television screens, while Itxaso Moreno is particularly engaging as Ariel, the audience’s main ‘contact’. Madeleine MacMahon is delightfully over the top as the self-obsessed Sebastianne, and Al Barclay and Ryan Duncan are equally amusing as Alonso and the somewhat clumsy Ferdinand respectively.
Although there were one or two technical glitches cropping up from time to time (note, a reliable Wi-Fi connection is essential for viewers), it doesn’t detract from the performance and instead adds to the madness. Creation Theatre are well-known for creating innovative theatre and The Tempest is certainly no different. While the awards ceremony feels somewhat out of place, on the whole The Tempest is an imaginative, energetic and hugely enjoyable show which embraces our current way of living. Not only does it allow the audience to experience the joy of theatre from the comfort of their living room, it also makes Shakespeare accessible to viewers of all ages. The ending in particular is a stroke of genius as we see how the show is put together, and there’s a particularly heartwarming moment when audience members are given the opportunity to engage with one another and enjoy human interaction some may be missing with the current lockdown. An imaginative and enjoyable show for these extraordinary times, The Tempest provides fun for the whole family.
The Tempest is running until Saturday 25 April.