Review – The Claribel (fourth installation of The Tempest in six parts) – RETZproduces at Borduria (297 Hoxton Street)

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For the fourth installation of RETZ’ six part Tempest (called “The Claribel”), I did something a little different and went on the last night, when a dinner was offered as well as a show. I did it, truth be told, because it was the only night I could go: “The Claribel” had an unfortunately short (two week) run, and by the time the dates were announced. I’d already booked the rest of my calendar (five shows at the Lufthansa Baroque Festival took up most of my time). But, truth be told, this wasn’t too much of an inconvenience. Actually, I’d read about the dinners on Twitter and they sounded kind of intriguing, despite the fact that they added rather a lot to the cost of the show (especially since I’d prepaid for all six by buying a Bordurian passport. So on a sunny, glorious Sunday I headed off to Shoreditch, ready for whatever Retz was going to throw at me and whatever mysteries were taking place inside the Hotel Claribel.

Surprisingly, there was quite a line behind the building, and as I arrived the guard was calling out names – apparently there was a waiting list! Fortunately, I was third to be called and made it in easily, despite forgetting my passport: I promised to “set it straight” with the guard “if we could get somewhere a little more private,”, and he replied that he’d brought his rubber gloves. As a parting shot, I congratulated on his performance in Eurovision the preceding night.

Then it was in a tiny room – an elevator, to all appearances – which shook and trembled after the doors slid shut. One of the girls who was in it with me asked playfully if we should all jump up at the same time; I earmarked her as the fun one. Meanwhile the other two asked all sorts of questions about just what was going on and what was going to happen. So curious – but where was their willingness to just go with the flow?

When the doors opened (on the ground floor still, of course), they revealed a tiny, art-deco-y bar, set in a room with some lounging chairs around a long coffee table and some regular chairs around a dining table. Four men were arranged around the room: two young (in a corner), one middle aged, and one old. But our attention was immediately distracted by the chipper barman, who offered us some “Bordurian beet gazpacho” and some kind of cocktail made of Earl Grey tea and vodka. I took a glass of each and sat down at the coffee table, so I was facing the center of the room. I sipped my drink and polished off the gazpacho (the weather was certainly right for it!) and got into a very animated conversation with the elevator jumper while the rest of the guests filed in, four by four. (I’m guessing many of the people outside never made it in. Ah well.)

Finally we had reached capacity (two poor folk had to stand near the elevator door, rather uncomfortable as the actors kept standing in front of them). Our characters for the evening were the King Gonzalo, his advisor Alonzo, and Sebastian and Antonio, two villians who spent most of the first part sitting in the corner (invisible to me) and making fun of nearly everything the two older men said – most of which was Gonzalo mourning the death of his son. The performance was rather a lot of Act Three Scene Three, but with other bits thrown in; particularly chilling was Antonio’s speech to Sebastian, explaining that his soul “is a stranger to mercy” (or something along those lines) – a truly chilling speech from someone who was goading on a man with a knife to stab to death the old man sleeping in an arm chair in front of me.

At some point before this all came to a head, the elevator doors opened, the actors went on mute (actually they sort of powered down; they certainly refused to talk when addressed, not nearly as fun as the first installation when I got to thumb wrestle Trinculo); and a group of black garbed Bordurians came in and started serving us food. Hurray, cold potato salad; hurray strange celeriac (fennel?) salad, but BOOOOO for the giant slabs of cold raw salmon, as I had NO INTEREST in eating any fish. (Our extras, however, delighted Richard, the man who played Gonzalo, when he came by our table after the show was over.) But we also had lovely rolls and butter and, well, more than enough to eat. In fact, it was good enough that when the actors resumed (and the music of the spirits was played, enchanting the two villains), I was still shoveling it in, and thus was ROUNDLY HUMILIATED when Sebastian leaned into me (after ignoring me before!) and said, “Now I will believe/That there are unicorns.” Yeah, unicorns cramming their faces full of over buttered rolls. It all wrapped up with a big reveal as the door of the elevator rolled open to show the projected face of Ariel, who said something utterly incomprehensible to me… and then the actors headed out the front of the shop, the exterior windows were rolled up, and it was time for dessert! Mmm some sort of gateau and a home made Battenburg cake, plus adorable hand-tied teabags to go with. To make it all more fun, the actors returned and socialized with us – apparently my table was full of friends of the king – and did what actors do, which is feed themselves solidly after a hard night’s work. This gave me a chance to quiz them about working on the project and about their characters – rather fun, really, to say, “So, what is your relationship with Prospero? Are you in his good books? And how does it feel to perform in such an intimate space?” They were all charming, possibly because it was the last night and they were very relaxed, but all told it was such a lovely summer evening, so perfect to sit down with a cold picnic and visit over Earl Grey martinis and slightly melting cake. And, to top it off, I had made a friend – the other American and I had exchanged contact information and promised to meet again for episode six.

Overall, this experiment in bite sized Shakespeare in an intimate, changing space has really been transforming my relationship with the Tempest – I’m having a chance to savor the characters and the text while I’m soaking in the gloriously variable environment Retz has been creating for each episode. I took a bit of a risk buying a season pass (er, “passport”) for all six performances, but I’m loving the experience. I feel sorry for people who haven’t been along for the whole ride – this feels more and more like something people are going to be talking about for ages. Me, I have already made reservations for “Prospero’s Library” in mid-June. Early booking is, as they say, advised.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, May 27, 2012.)

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