Many strange things occur in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but in this production, by Oxford’s Creation Theatre, there are more surprises than even Prospero might have conjured up. It is performed in a location on the outskirts of Oxford, revealed only to ticket holders, in what the company describes as ‘their immersive theatre game style.’
An ingenious and entertaining evening.
Hence the note, ‘You’re shipwrecked. Watch. Listen. Trust no one. Survive.’
Seated at tables in groups of around ten, there is a chance to chat to fellow team members before the cast enters and the storm rages. Then, it’s off with the first set of instructions to a series of locations where the hacked script will be performed.
Given that many of the events in The Tempest occur contemporaneously their running order is not of any great significance, setting aside the opening shipwreck and the conclusion. Indeed, that concept is enhanced in this construction of the play.
Prospero and Miranda are at his cell, divided bands of passengers roam around different parts of the island unbeknown to the others, Ariel flits hither and thither causing mischief and Caliban is likely to crawl out of some stream or pit any time. What is lost is the serenity of sitting in a theatre enjoying seamless continuity, but that’s not what immersive, promenade events are about. After a couple of kilometres tripping around, under and through vastly differing settings on what was a glorious summer’s evening, it was time to return to base for the liberations, libations and spectacular wedding and masque.
Adaptor and Director Zoe Seaton has put together an ingenious and entertaining evening with a highly competent cast, who rise to the challenge of combining Shakesperian rendition with in-character chat and handing out instructions for progressing around the circuit. This island has phones, cars and computers to facilitate progression. Inevitably some scenes stand out more than others. In a tight space, where every twitch was visible, Annabelle Terry (Miranda) and Al Barclay (Alonso) gave a delightfully endearing portrayal of love at first sight, making the wedding even more enjoyable because we were standing next to them when they first met. Later, on a narrow bridge above a stream, PK Taylor meticulously unpicked Caliban’s, ‘The isle is full of noises..’ to imbue it with poignant clarity of meaning. His physical agility, cowering and fear in the presence of humans came to the fore moments later with the amusing arrival of Keith Singleton (Trinculo), whose sonorous Irish words humorously taunted Caliban into a drunken stupor. Matching the latter's contortions and nimbleness Itxaso Moreno (Ariel) twisted and turned her way around sets while floating through the charming poetry while Simon Spencer-Hyde (Prospero) remained firmly in control.
This production demands precise collaboration between areas of responsibility and is clearly the result of a remarkable team effort on the part of Ryan Dawson Laight (Designer), Matt Eaton (Sound Designer), Ashley Bale (Lighting Designer), Stuart Read (Video Designer), Sinead Owens (Stage Manager) and Giles Stoakley (Production Manager). The remaining cast members, Ryan Duncan (Ferdinand), Madeleine MacMahon (Sebastian), Chris Robinson (Antonio), Giles Stoakley (The Captain) and Andy Owens (Head of Security - a new character!), also brought creativity and eccentricity to their roles that further enlivened the evening.
A team of interns, Simon Castle, Michael Deacon, Charlie Longman and William Van Walwyk assisted as waiters and general hands on deck to facilitate the event’s smooth running.
Lucy Askew, Creation Theatre’s Chief Executive, observes that ‘the aim of this immersive and interactive show is for everyone to feel really engaged with the story’. That was certainly achieved. Alas, ‘our revels now are ended’.