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The Tempest – Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Writer: William Shakespeare, adapted by Andy Barrow

Director: Andy Barrow

Reviewer: James Garrington

Since it was established 29 years ago, Oddsocks has become famous for its unusual and comic versions of the classic Shakespeare plays – often to some acclaim. This year, alongside a rerun of last year’s Romeo and Juliet, we have a new production of The Tempest. It is billed as “Tempest like you’ve never seen it before”, a musical sci-fi version involving a spacecraft crashing onto a distant planet. This idea is actually not new, of course, and the show certainly seems to take most of its inspiration from Bob Carlton’s Return to the Forbidden Planet, with music played on-stage by the cast interspersed with the dialogue. There is also more than a passing nod to the original Star Trek, with Alien and Star Wars also popping up as Trinculo is played as a C3PO character in this heavily adapted version of The Tempest.

With a relatively short running time and all of this going on, you might wonder how much Tempest they have managed to include, and you’d be right to be concerned. The basic premise is there, along with some short extracts from the original Tempest script, but it seems more like an Oddsocks script which includes some bits of Shakespeare rather than the other way round. The play has a distinct pantomime feel about it, with audience interaction, ad-libs and unsubtle humour.

There is no doubt that the cast of six actor-musicians all work very hard to make it work, each playing multiple rôles (and in one case sharing the rôle between three of them). Director Andy Barrow leads the cast as Prospero, at times giving us the classic portrayal of the character but then jumping into panto comedian mode, as though he’d rather be playing Buttons. His brother Antonio is played by Gavin Harrison as a full-on pantomime villain, even encouraging the audience to boo and hiss when he enters. Harrison also plays the C3PO version of Trinculo, with an excellent impression of the original Star Wars character both in voice and movement. Matt Penson’s Ferdinand has a boyish charm, with some nice moments between Ferdinand and his new-found love, Prospero’s daughter Miranda (Alice Merivale). Dom Gee Burch is a dim-witted Sebastian, who also shows some good physicality as a half man/half fish Caliban, and the cast is completed by Amy Roberts as Queen Alonsa/Stephanie.

Although the extracts of Shakespeare used here are all from the original play, there isn’t that much of it between the new material and songs, and the plot has been pulled around so much that if you come to this hoping to learn about The Tempest then you are likely to go away disappointed. When the original text does appear, though, it is often delivered straight – a wise choice, reminding us of the power and beauty of the Shakespearean dialogue. Where the songs appear, they don’t always seem to fit naturally into the dialogue, and the accompaniments often sound a little thin, performed by a cast who are on the whole better musicians than vocalists.

The difficulty with this production is that it doesn’t quite fit into any mould. It’s not a pantomime, although it’s often played like one. As a Sci-Fi musical take on Shakespeare the script is not as clever, or the music as appropriate as Forbidden Planet; and it’s certainly not a Tempest, although it contains elements of the story, characters and script. As a result, it doesn’t really satisfy on any level.

Runs Until 21 June 2018 and on tour  | Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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