Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Joanna Carrick
Reviewer: Paul Couch
When an ageing William Shakespeare – in a reflective frame of mind – penned his last solo play in the first decade of the 1600s it’s unlikely he envisaged his melodramatic tragicomedy would end up being performed in a woodland setting with its native peacocks screaming eerily on cue and audiences getting drenched by over-enthusiastic actors flinging bottles of pretend(we hope) booze about.
However, Red Rose Chain’s annual Theatre in the Forest outing – this year The Tempest – offers exactly that. There are some who will eschew taking liberties with both presentation and performance but, purists be damned, this Tempest is fun and accessible and worth getting wet for.
Red Rose Chain Artistic Director Joanna Carrick doesn’t much care for the rules, as previous Shakespearean outings have proven. Who can forget the entire cast of Hamlet dancing and singing Dem Bones while many of us looked on slack-jawed in bewilderment? But evolution is about breaking the rules and who’s to say Shakespeare wouldn’t have had his players belting out It’s Raining Men (naturally) too if the Weather Girls had recorded it 400 years earlier.
The youthful and gangly Edward Day may lack the gravitas to provide a suitably ominous and vengeful Prospero but comes into his own as jester Trinculo, bringing his Lecoq physical theatre training fully to bear against Lawrence Russell’s full-on comedy Italian chef, Stephano. Russell takes liberties with the hero Ferdinand too, yet his faux-Bronx accent works beautifully with the rhythm of Shakespeare’s dialogue.
The cast play multiple roles, which allows them to stretch themselves – quite literally in some cases – to their fullest. Kirsty Thorpe gives an extraordinarily detailed performance as a savage Caliban before slipping effortlessly into a bright orange top hat for Alonso, the King of Naples (via Little Italy).
Similarly, Rachael McCormick as both Miranda and the ancient courtier Gonzalo is sensational, particularly in the latter role.
And where would a good Shakespeare be without its sprites and spirits? Jack Parker’s emerald-tinged Ariel is ever-present and a much lighter force of super-nature than we’re used to but still edgy and, given the whimsical context of the staging, his dynamic is entirely on-point.
Is Carrick’s Tempest perfect? Possibly not – even if Prospero is a little on the rangy side, his magic needn’t be and a few cracks of pre-recorded thunder do not a tempest make. Also, while hilarious, some of the cod-Italian accents could do with tweaking back a notch to make Shakespeare’s dialogue a little more audible, and the last 20 minutes might be tightened up, but these are small niggles in the greater scheme of things.
The staging has been scaled back on previous years and consists of little more than a large amount of painted oil drums and the natural beauty of the surrounding woodland. If anything, this actually aids the audience to focus on the action, so no points lost there.
All in all, it’s safe to say that Red Rose Chain is back on top of its game for Theatre in the Forest.
Runs until 28 August 2016 | Image: Bill Jackson