Into the Shadows of Shakespeare – Free

The Tempest, retold by children whose first language isn’t even English. Into the Shadows of Shakespeare is a short performance of Shakespeare’s much-loved final play, with the addition of a frame story about Chloe, a young girl with a crush, and her disapproving mother. She ends up transported into the magical world of Shakespeare’s island, taking the place of the magical Ariel.

The cast, all of whom are very young to be embracing such a challenging play, give the production their all and have clearly put in a lot of work

We are told at the end that these children have never acted before, and they are doing so in their second language. This in its own right is incredibly impressive, with a strong level of English tackling a simplified but still fairly challenging script. The young actress playing Chloe is charming and full of energy, giving a delightful portrayal of the airy spirit Ariel. Prospero, meanwhile, is played in a commanding and authoritarian manner. Caliban is bent over and very monster-like. Ferdinand is possibly one of the most charismatic versions portrayed. The cast, all of whom are very young to be embracing such a challenging play, give the production their all and have clearly put in a lot of work.

Diction is occasionally weak, and the blocking ensures they’re often upstaging each other, making passages fairly hard to hear. The use of shadows adds a magical and incredibly inventive quality, very suitable for the play. However, a bit of backstage rustling occasionally interrupts the illusion. Entrances are a little rushed or mistimed so that the tech is a bit out of sync. The music, a mix of Chopin, 1940s big bands, and a significant portion of the Amelie soundtrack and a curious song about coconuts, is consistently too loud, drowning out a lot of the actors on stage. The scene where Chloe appears as a harpy is also spoiled by the excessively loud Requiem music and problems with lighting.

Being familiar with at least the synopsis of the play definitely helps, as certain plot points are a little glazed over, making it potentially bit hard to follow. Furthermore, a bit more time could be taken and additional deliberation in blocking and physicality would go a long way.

The show has a very lovely quality. The child actors do a fantastic job, and I cannot commend them enough for putting on such a complicated play in not their first, but their second language! The entire performance is very endearing, but could benefit with more technical organisation. For a short free show, this is a real treat.

As a cultural project, Into the Shadows of Shakespeare is a very fitting show to put on. In the 400th year of Shakespeare’s death, he is the most performed playwright worldwide, and it is very heart-warming to see children travel thousands of miles to put on his show on his island of origin. 

Reviews by Fiona Russell

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The Blurb

Join the Beijing based Chinese student actors for a wondrous morning of Shakespearian themed shadow theatre. Violet is sent to live in a provincial English town with relatives who own a small playhouse, specializing in productions of Shakespeare's works. She delights in sitting in the wings and watching the productions play out in shadows upon the back stage walls. She discovers that after the live productions end... the shadows play on. Thus begins Violet's magical journey through the fantastical realms populated by the timeless characters found in the works of William Shakespeare.

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