Review: The Tempest at Stratford



Richard Lutz reviews a Shakespeare production that’s more than child’s play

Throw in a Shakespeare drama complete with puppets, songs and a theatre full of primary school kids and you know you are in for an afternoon that will either sink or swim.

After all, the technical staff and the actors really have to work. Children, are harsh critics. If things don’t hit them between the eyes, the restless whispering starts, the crunching of crisp packets gets louder and the fidgeting more rampant.

This month, The RSC plays host to The Little Angel Theatre (with its 50 year history of puppet theatre) and its production of The Tempest that’s aimed at both adults and children from 7 upwards.

Does it work for a young child? Can you simply and effectively reduce The Tempest with its heavy freight…the freight of it possibly being Shakespeare’s personal adieu to the theatre; the freight of its references to the New World; the freight of the recurring Shakespearean theme of the aging father and the cherished daughter; and, the freight of the play’s reliance on classical structure?

Does it work as a simple story that a child can grasp? Is it a play that causes laughter and amazement as the flying Ariel puppet whizzes above them or the huge Caliban monster lumbers across the boards?

The answer is yes. it works. The kids loved it. I talked to one Kings Heath teacher ferrying her charges out of the theatre and she said many of her pupils had never been to live theatre before and they were entranced. A little lad next to her told me he liked the monster best. Other children chirped in their favourites. They loved it, especially the raucous moments such as when a drunken Stephano relieved himself in a bucket (in a theatrical fashion, of course).

So, that’s a simple enough joyous thumbs up from a potentially fickle primary school audience.

The script is stripped back, many scenes (such as the opening storm scene)  chucked out and neat little modern songs inserted to explain scenes that the children just simply may not pick up. The puppets are beautifully crafted. The flesh and blood human actors are up to scratch and David Fielder play a Prospero who seems a bit vulnerable and unsure with his world- not at all similiar to the muscular Patrick Stewart that powered across the RSC stage a few years ago.

Scenery was sparse, lighting used to superb effect and the boisterous clowning left the small audience laughing themselves silly.

It’s a winner.

+The Tempest plays until 26th March at The Swan in Stratford