Posts Tagged ‘The Tempest’

Review – Prospero’s Library (fifth installation of The Tempest in six parts) – RETZproduces at Borduria (297 Hoxton Street)T

June 18, 2012

It’s six months now since RETZ started its six part Tempest, and I’ve been enjoying watching it play out. June is installation five, “Prospero’s Library,” and I tried to be early as possible making reservations so I didn’t miss out. (Retz’ shaky approach to letting us know when the performances are goign to take place has been driving me crazy for months now.)

I was now expecting a certain formula: the wait to enter the building from the back door; the bizarre “border guard” (Yuri?) checking my “passport” (I now have a running joke with him about his performance as the Bordurian entry for Eurovision); the ticket taker acting as if I’m really at a passport control going into a Soviet bloc country (I’m a known Bordurian citizen, now, so it all goes smoothly).

The mysteries for me are now all on the other side, where, this time, I am obliged to use a passcode to unlock the door. Inside is a slightly claustrophobic library, stuffed with gilded texts (some, however, quite dull modernish titles like “Balletomania”), decorated with taxidermied animals and skulls, with a bearded man hovering over a table built into one wall. It’s clear to me that he is Prospero. And, peeking around a corner, I can see a certain puppy-headed monster and his drunk pals, Trinculo and Stephano, hiding in a corner, waiting for their chance to attack.

The choice of scenes this time is the culmination of Prospero’s story (to me), as he turns away from his hatred and resentment and decides to let Ferdinand, son of his old enemy Alonso, marry his daughter Miranda. Prospero’s change seemed to me much more of an evolution in this context than when I had seen it in previous productions, when it appeared an abrupt and arbitrary decision of a still angry old man. Was it because of the power of this actor or was it caused by the intimacy allowed in such a compact environment (there were only five people in total watching the show)? Either way, for once, rather than balking at the sudden reversal, I bought into it.

And then … well, things will happen when monsters attack. And, for the sake of surprise, I will say no more about the performance. However, the books themselves are on sale if you go by the environment during the day; prices range from £1-£3. It’s unbearably, tempting, isn’t it? Me, I’ve got my eyes on a wonderful copy of Vanity Fair, and, of course, getting myself organized to see the final installment of this production.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, June 14th, 2012. Performances of “Prospero’s Library” continue through June 23rd and can be booked via the Retz website.)

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Review – Caliban’s Cave (third installation of The Tempest in Six Parts) – RETZproduces at Borduria (297 Hoxton Street)

April 23, 2012

Caliban: who is he, really? A hero? A villain? Is he evil, mentally deficient, or just warped by his past? We were given the chance to decide this for ourselves at the third installment of RETZ Production’s O Brave New World, in which we are invited to the lair of the “puppy headed monster” himself (or herself). Caliban’s cave is a detailed, low-ceiling environment that reminded me of nothing so much as the kinds of forts we used to build in the desert – a big pit in the ground with a bunch of mattresses thrown on top for shade and all of our precious treasures stored in little nooks inside. This was luxurious by fort standards – a spare armchair, a stool, some music playing, a half-busted computer monitor, and a bar (this being more part of the overall installation than Caliban’s per se, useful for people stopping by the location during the day or for those looking for a drink during the show).

We, the audience, show up shortly after the start time and arrange ourselves on the padded benches on the edges. From there, we are treated to Caliban’s exposition of his world – how he got where is his today (“see the picture of my mother!”), his take on Prospero (“Too much time reading and not enough duke-ing”), a wee hint of his feelings for Miranda, his dark smouldering plans to take his revenge on the person whom, in Caliban’s eyes, is responsible for ruining his life.

While I enjoyed my trip to Caliban’s crib, this episode did not hold up to the previous two (despite the good acting and the lovely reveal at the end). There was little use of Shakespeare’s own words, and, while some time spent in Caliban’s brain is fun, it just came off like a very thin production (albeit in a very rich environment). Caliban’s Cave was worth the trip for me, but I hope that this is as soft as the production goes, and that was are back to a richer performance in May with section four, The Claribel.

(This review is for a perfomance that took place on 7 PM, Thursday, April 19th, 2012. It continues through April 28th, at which time it will be torn down in preparation for the next installment.)

Review – A.R.I.E.L. (second installation of the Tempest in six parts) – RETZproduces at Borduria (297 Hoxton Street)

March 18, 2012

On my return to Borduria I was much more prepared for what to expect that the last time. As expected, my passport was stamped, but I was sent away because I was too early (apparently 8 PM for an 8:15 start is too early, but be warned it did actually get going pretty damned sharpish so don’t be running off to the pub down the street as if you really have time for a drink before the show).

When I returned, I was let through the door separating passport control from the rest of the building. Lo! The interior of the building had been completely ripped out since my last visit, and I was now in a sort of central control chamber, with video screens on the walls showing loops of a burning plane – the modern equivalent of a shipwreck. And raised in the corner was a little bed, with a young woman sleeping fitfully under blankets – our Miranda.

The tenor of the videos changed, and the show seemed to start (for the five of us standing in the room) – and a voice overhead, Prospero, began to argue with Miranda about the recent crash on the shores of their island. She seemed sincerely traumatized by it in a way I hadn’t remembered feeling from any other Miranda I’d seen. Eventually, the figure of a young man, Ferdinand, appears in the monitor screens: Miranda is fascinated. Then he bursts into the room, and we see them both amazed by each other. We were literally inches away from the actors, and every twitch of their faces was visible to us – somehow making it all seem more real. When Ferdinand is enchanted by Prospero, forced to work for him, it seemed quite believable – the magic in the old work somehow being realized in the technology of the modern room in which we stood.

The next “scene” took place through another door, in the front half of the building. It had been rebuilt as a sort of an office, with a bar in the middle serving drinks and coffee – I took advantage of the break to get a glass of red wine. Then Miranda and Ferdinand acted out the scene in which he is forced to attack the pile of “logs” Prospero has set as a task for him – in this case, they are log books (ooh how clever) and he is doing data entry. The entire scene was charming, and I found the words exchanged between the two actors more compelling than I had in any performance before. This, truly, was Shakespeare brought to life. I am looking forward to seeing the next iteration of this fun project!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, March 8th, 2012. To book, please follow this link. I think it’s going for another week but I’m not sure – I can’t get any information off of any of their many websites. However, the next installment, in April, will be “Caliban’s Cave,” followed by “Hotel Lobby,” “Prospero’s Library,” and “The Port.” For more information, I’d suggest emailing Retz.)

Review – The Tempest in Six Parts – RETZproduces at Borduria (297 Hoxton Street)

February 29, 2012

Sometime in January a curious tweet passed by in my feed: “Become a citizen of Borduria now, get access to 6 installations of ‘The Tempest’ in a pop-up Shoreditch art space.” The message was vague: I couldn’t tell exactly what I was being promised (paintings? movies? spoken word with jazz hands accompaniment?), but something about it attracted me like a phone number on a bathroom wall (or a message in a bottle): give a little money and you can Make Magic Happen. I could smell the sizzle of promise and imagination: I’ll become a citizen? And I’ll come back several times? What the heck, I thought, I’ll sign up for this “O Brave New World” and hope for the best.

Initially things went badly: my passport didn’t turn up after more than a week, and while I could see from the Twitter feed that things were happening, I couldn’t tell what. A chorus? Wrackeroni? Frequently the links were for YouTube videos or stuff on Facebook, both of which were blocked at work: then on the blog there were stories (the Bordurian women’s choir? People napping?) that made me unsure if I was going to a small concert hall or just a coffee shop. The passport I bought said I got “free access during the day,” but to what? And what was going on in the evening, exactly? Pressure mounted as the Twitter feed started talking about the end of the first installation, so I stopped faffing around, went onto the Bordurian Citizens website, and just signed up for a time to go. (Well, actually, I wasn’t able to get the website to work right and sent a Tweet saying I wanted to go, and the nice person who helped me sort out my missing passport took care of it or me.)

Come a Sunday and there I was, disembarking in front of St Leonard’s hospital with a Turkish pizza in my hand, trying to figure out which end of Hoxton was the right one given that (once again) none of the buildings had numbers on them. I got lucky and turned the right way (hoping the “top” of Hoxton was the part near the canal), and there was a man in a green overcoat and a military-style hat. He greeted me, I showed him my passport, and I was welcomed to Borduria, which apparently accessed via the rear entrance of a scaffolding-covered building (be careful stepping over the ladder).

Inside my passport was checked and stamped (“Welcome back, citizen!”) and I was ushered into … a small room that seemed like a combination bar slash coffeeshop. There was a bar with a person behind it making drinks (and a crock pot of some sort full of stew); a table football game; some stuff playing on TVs; and about twenty other people sitting around in chairs or on couches talking to each other and … waiting. (“What’s going to happen?” I asked one of the girls sat near me. “I don’t know!” she answered. Fair enough.)

So what DIDN’T happen is that we didn’t get up and move around the building to different places where different things were happening – we stayed put the whole time. So it wasn’t a promenade. And, well, even though a new “environment” was created inside the building, I wouldn’t really call it an installation piece or performance art. What it was, eventually, was a performance of once section of the Tempest – an early part of the play (somewhat cobbled together, I think, though with a lot of Act II scene II) with Caliban, Ariel, Trinculo, and (I think) Stephano, the last two (human) characters recently arrived on the island during a storm. Ariel is done as a computer program – A.R.I.E.L. – who speaks through the computer monitors on the walls (I think it was just text displaying but my memory has added a voice as well).

The three non-digital characters interact a bit with the audience at one point, drinking and playing games with us (I beat Trinculo at thumb wrestling) but mostly only have eyes for each other – though Caliban does have a go at the bar. It’s all very intimate and in your face in this very small space, making the sweat and smell of the actors very vibrant. While I was a bit disappointed that we weren’t actually walking around a recreation of a shipwreck and instead watching a fairly straight piece of theater, it was a cool experience. I also liked the integration of the digital character, and (as I saw later) all of the work the team had gone to created a full-cycle experience with the videos/tweets/graphics that surrounded the performance, making it more of a … well, four dimensional show, or five, perhaps – it was a show that had not just a place and time of performance, but a world and a lot of imagination. I’m a citizen of Borduria now. I live on a strange island with talking computers (and free WiFi) and hypnotizable, “clustering filberts” drinking monsters; and come next week I am going back to see something else entirely, and I’ll go four more times over the next 5 months to see “my homeland” in its entirety.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, February 19th, 2012. “O Brave New World” continues with its A.R.I.E.L. installment from Friday, March 2nd, 2012. For further updates, please see the RETZproduces twitter feed or the Facebook page – to be honest I find the whole thing hard to keep up with and am grateful I received a flyer letting me know that Friday was the date of the new show. I still have a lot of questions about what is going on with this show and apologize if I’ve been unable to answer yours.)

Review – The Tempest – Little Angel Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company at Little Angel Theatre

April 12, 2011

When the Little Angel Theater Twitter feed covered their work with the Royal Shakespeare Company in producing a child-friendly version of The Tempest, I pretty much ignored it – I don’t really like kid’s shows and I’m not one to travel to see shows (kiddy play, Stratford, whatever). However, my attitude changed when I saw that this show was being brought to London for presentation at the Little Angel’s home venue. I had really dismissed the show as being a throwaway to satisfy parents eager to entertain their tots (or a theater trying to prove it “reaches out” to their non-core audience), but the fact that the Little Angel thought it was good enough to put on their regular season made me think that maybe it was worth checking out and not just a case of them providing a bit of advice on “here’s how we do it.” Little A brings high production values to their shows, and, well, I had guests coming from out of town who needed entertainment on a Sunday night (as it happens the only time I could see it) and it was just opening … so I rolled the dice, bought three tickets, and took two Americans to see a puppet show on their one and only night of London theater.

I’m so glad I trusted my impulses and that they all worked together to encourage me to get tickets for this show. As it turns out, this was a full-blown coproduction of Little Angel and the Royal Shakespeare Company – it was not a “puppet” version of The Tempest (like I’d thought, and which my guests might not have liked), but a production in which two characters are done as puppets and all the rest performed by the tip-top actors of the RSC who are also manipulating puppets – and providing musical accompaniment, both sung and played. Really, I was quite impressed by what performing powerhouses these people were!

The two puppet characters in this show were Ariel and Caliban, which were actually great choices to portray in this way. Ariel was a tiny fairy, about 1 1/2 feet tall, who leaps and flies and stands on Prospero and generally behaves in ways you just couldn’t have done with an actual human actor. I pretty much ignored the person (people) who was (were) manipulating and speaking for Ariel and just focused on the puppet – a sign that the puppeteer actor people were doing a really good job! Caliban, meanwhile, was a big, squat puppet monster (seen in the production photos), and could possibly have been just as well done as a human – but I enjoyed his otherworldly qualities. In fact, with these two puppets, the world of magic that is at the heart of The Tempest came alive for me for the first time ever in a way that all-human productions just hadn’t managed to do. Prospero was a magician cavorting with spirits summoned from his books, and not just a human ruling over other humans of greater or lesser talents.

I was also just amazed by the quality of the acting, which was so much more powerful for being in a small space (Little A seats about 100 or so) – it was full-quality Shakespearean actors basically two feet away from you and really going for it. And the songs (which frequently form a part of the puppet shows here, and which I usually don’t care for) were well made, beautifully harmonized, and accompanied by some solid flute/violin/accordion (etc.) – and they added to the magical atmosphere. Ultimately, my complaints boiled down to “the love song was too soppy” and “Prospero’s brother looked like an escapee from Black Adder with his awful wig.” Really, I just thought the whole thing was great, I was completely sucked up from about minute two, and at the end I thought, “My God, did I really just pay 12 quid for that amazing show? This is what living in a country that provides real support for the arts means.” Which is what I told my visiting American friends, basically, that we see shows like this just by accident on our way home from buying groceries. But it’s not true; this show is actually very, very good. I’d say buy your ticket immediately if you’re thinking about it, because once the word gets out, there won’t be any more left.

(This review is for the 7PM show that took place on Sunday, April 10th, 2011. It continues through May 15th.)