Pros: A fun and approachable way to experience Shakespeare, with puppetry, folk music and dance.
Cons: At times, it can be a little hard to follow the Shakespearean language…
I’m going to begin this review by admitting that I’m personally not a huge fan of Shakespeare. I can appreciate the huge contribution the Bard has made to theatre and literature, but in all honestly I find that the Elizabethan English can be a bit of a barrier, particularly after a hard day at work. To make things worse, The Tempest isn’t a Shakespeare play that I know particularly well, so I went to this show with some trepidation. However, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. The cast performed the play well and with such enthusiasm and energy that so that I was able to follow the story and stay engaged with the plot throughout. The pace was rapid so I didn’t lose interest but it wasn’t so fast that I wasn’t able to keep up.
The Tree Folk Theatre Company generally work with folk tales rather than Shakespeare. This may have assisted them with the clear and simple delivery of the play, which has potential to be quite confusing as it has lots of characters and several sub-plots. This was quite an unusual rendition of a Shakespeare play, using a lot of movement, dance, live music and puppetry. On paper it might sound a bit over the top, but I thought the combination lent a lot to the mystical, magical feel of The Tempest. The use of folk music fitted the story well. You could imagine people shipwrecked on an island playing this type of music to while away the hours.
The cast were impressively multi-talented. There were some really strong singers and dancers and I was really surprised to see that the sound effects and music were being played live. Also, I really liked the use of puppets, particularly for the parts of Ariel and Caliban: it created a mystical feel around these enchanted characters that was fitting for the play. I also liked the unusual casting. Often in Shakespeare (and in fact in theatre, TV and film today) the big roles are for men, so it was good to see women being cast in some of the lead male roles.
The set was really simple, just a boat to represent the shipwreck, books in piles and boxes to represent rocks on the island. This was really clever as it enabled the cast to move the set around throughout the play so that the audience got to see what was happening wherever they were sitting. The simplicity of the set was particularly important because the play was performed in the round, a notoriously difficult configuration to perform in because you constantly have to ensure none of the audience are neglected. The cast made good use of the space using the boxes to create height and getting right in amongst the audience at times. Prospero’s books (the source of his power) were used really cleverly to represent the waves of the sea, birds and pillows for people’s heads when they were charmed to sleep. Also they were used to create noise during some of the more tumultuous parts of the play.
Lighting was also used to good effect in the play with moody blues for the mystical parts and bright light to give the impression of daytime on a desert island. It made the most of the simple set, giving a sense of place and time.
Overall Tree Folk Theatre give a pretty good performance and I would recommend it. If you’re after an engaging, fast-paced performance where the cast and director have made the play their own, then this is the production for you. I think it would be particularly good for a younger audience, and for parents and schools trying to get their youngsters interested in Shakespeare.