William Shakespeare, adapted by Julian Chenery and Matt Gimblett
Shakespeare 4 Kidz
Sunderland Empire and touring
The Tempest for kids, particularly primary school kids? as a musical? Surely not.
Although they have tackled Dream, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth (Macbeth?!) in the same way, I have to admit that I thought Shakespeare 4 Kidz were making a mistake this time. The themes of The Tempest are surely too complex? Revenge and forgiveness... The exercise of power, and then giving it up... Crime and punishment... Retribution and restitution... Good and evil...
But what else are fairy tales about? What are the themes of the best children's stories? And Shakespeare tells a good tale.
And I was wrong. It does work for kids. The story comes across loud and clear, as do the feelings and the ideas. Julian Chenery and Matt Gimblett know how kids' minds work and they slant the characters in a way which fits the audience. Stephano and Trinculo are clowns; Sebastian and Antonio are double-dyed villains but they are made to look rather stupid; Gonzalo (who looked more than a little like George in Drop the Dead Donkey and was about as effectual) was bumbling but endearing; Ariel is a child with a bad case of sulks on occasion; Ferdinand is appealing if a little bumptious and Miranda... Ah! every little girl in the audience could see herself in Miranda. And Prospero is the loving father who could be quite capricious - and every kid knows fathers are like that.
In fact, the characters are as Shakespeare wrote them, just perhaps a little more so, slanted ever so slightly.
The simple but effective set, the colourfully appropriate costumes and the well designed lighting created real magic for the kids in the audience. There were amamzed cries of "Did you see that?" from the kids around me at a number of points in the play. The cast, too, pitch their performances just right, retaining that essential simplicity and broadness which appeals to kids whilst retaining their essentially Shakespearean character.
There are moments which don't really work: they lost a considerable number of the kids around me in the Iris/Juno masque. They didn't really know what was going on and, although there were some laughs at the cross-dressing, attention wandered and there was a little fidgeting. (Although, come to think of it, I don't think this particular scene plays well to modern audiences of any age.) There was a perceptible switching off, too, when too many songs followed too closely together, but on the whole there is no doubt that it was a resounding success: listening to excited "I liked the bit when..." from nine and ten year olds as they left the theatre was certain confirmation of that.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan