William Shakespeare, edited by Peter Glanville and Phil Porter, music and additional lyrics by Ben Glasstone
Produced by Little Angel Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company
Little Angel Theatre
In this RSC-Little Angel co-production The Tempest has been transformed into a gratifying entertainment for children aged seven and over. This restyling has been achieved by some judicious thinning out of the text courtesy of Peter Glanville and Phil Porter, the addition of some explanatory and diverting songs by the marvellously talented Ben Glasstone, and emphasising the comedy to be found in the action.
The story survives intact though Antonio's villainy lacks menace and Caliban is rather benign for the wickedness attributed him in the language, but this matters not at all to the youngsters who can follow the general plot and revel in the antics of daft Stephano and drunken Trinculo, with the latter's weeing into a bucket vying for first place in the hilarity stakes with him pretend-throwing up into the audience.
The mix of humans and puppets is as normal and accepted a convention today as men taking female roles was centuries ago and the use of puppets to take the parts of the non-humans seems quite natural. Ariel is an enchanted punky, winged sprite, light as the air he flits about in thanks to the skilful handling of Jonathan Storey and Lyndie Wright's design but real enough to look tortured in his tree-prison. By contrast Caliban is a podgy self-pitying prehistoric creature full of character (in the hands of Jonathan Dixon) and only marginally more fearsome than Shrek.
The frights and thrills come with the daemon dogs that seem to jump out of the dancing dresses and the monsters lying in wait under the domed salvers that joyfully make the audience jump out of its skin, but there are also more subtle effects, be they visual or via the stunning sound track.
Director Peter Glanville has filled the piece with movement using the tiny auditorium to maintain the pace, enlarge the performance area and keep the audience on their delighted toes. The love story between Ferdinand and Miranda is innocently playful and Miranda's long white dress had just enough of a suggestion of bridal princess about it to suggest her age.
David Fielder's Prospero balances authoritative leader with loving father to Anneika Rose's sweet Miranda. Crowd favourites, Brett Brown is the physical Stephano doubling as Sebastian and Ruth Calkin is the dippy Trinculo doubling as the kindly Gonzalo. Jonathan Dixon gives cuddly Caliban voice and movement and plays Alonso with Christopher Staines taking the roles of engagingly love-sick Ferdinand and baddy Antonio.
This reading of The Tempest has the drama of the original if not its guts; decades of entertaining children has been brought to bear in shaping it for its audience to beguile and amuse them. In achieving its goal, it also raises the game.
"The Tempest" is suitable for ages seven and over - performance times vary: check website for details and to book online. Running time is 75 minutes with no interval.
Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti