REVIEW: The Tempest

This review was originally written for the Londonist

A potent mix of people and puppets, this family friendly version of Shakespeare’s storm comedy is charming, whether you’re seven or quite a lot older.  A collaboration between the RSC and the Little Angel, The Tempest has just transferred from the Swan in Stratford to Islington’s dedicated puppet theatre, a venue five times smaller.

The tiny stage is transformed into a magic island by two curving pieces of wood – sculpted forms that manage to evoke waves, a shipwreck and a cave – a few dusty books and a sheet of fabric.  The human characters are played by, well, humans, and the more fanciful ones by puppets.

Ariel is a pearlescent green, bird-like sprite, while Caliban is a large, lumbering beast.  He’s not frightening, just an odd cross between a lizard, a cow, a cartoon dinosaur and a teenage boy, with endearing ears and a tendency to whinge.  Both are rod puppets that convince entirely.  Other creatures include singing dresses that transform into vicious dogs, dancing wire shadow puppets and floating dinner plates.

Running for 1hour and 15minutes without an interval, using an abridged but Shakespearean script, the performance is fast paced and really quite funny.   Comic songs help interpret the action and move things along.  We especially enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek falling in love song, along with the slapstick drunken scene between Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo.

If you fancy an intense burst of simplified but still engrossing Shakespearean wizardry, in the sweet surroundings of the Little Angel Theatre, this is worth a watch.  It proves how kid-friendly some of Shakespeare’s plays can be, despite the difficult language.  The night we went the audience was actually predominately adults and, to sum it up in five words, it made us all smile.

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