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Covid-19 lockdown: The Tempest in front rooms everywhere

Creation theatre's 'game-changer'

The Tempest in front rooms everywhere
The Tempest in front rooms everywhere

The Tempest in front rooms everywhere
From Saturday, April 11 to Monday, April 13

Review by Jon Lewis

Zooming Brilliance

In these lockdown days, many theatres and theatre companies are broadcasting previous shows, either for payment or free, on a range of internet sites. Oxford’s Creation Theatre Company, in co-production with Northern Ireland’s Big Telly, have in only two weeks, crafted an entirely new, live on Zoom, production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Directed by Zoe Seaton, whose first, magical, Creation show, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I reviewed for the Newbury Weekly News in 2000, has refashioned The Tempest using the same cast and creative team that performed the play in site-specific locations across Osney Island in Oxford last summer.

The production of The Tempest must be one of the world’s first coronavirus isolation plays. From their own homes, with some sets created digitally, such as the bank of televisions behind the MC, Prospero (Simon Spencer-Hyde), sometimes showing his all-seeing eye, controlling all interactions like a Bond villain. Later the screens display the oak tree that imprisons Ariel (Itxaso Moreno), a l literal screensaver of Ariel’s past and a signal that lets audiences that know The Tempest well know that beyond the technological trickery there’s a strong and faithful adherence to the imagery inherent in the script. It comes as a delightful surprise when Miranda (Annabelle Terry) is filmed running off into her own garden, its realness contrasting vividly with the computer-generated scenes and backcloths elsewhere.

Seaton directs the play as if it’s a real-time movie, intercutting between the characters within the stripped-down narrative. However, what makes this production unique, and so memorable, is that it is interactive. Using Zoom, co-ordinated by Creation’s in-house drama specialist Emily Walsh, the audience is essential in making this show, just as it was live around Osney Island last year. From front room sofas, we see each other contribute to the performance, can wave to each other, can hear everybody. And in our new social distancing, stay at home world, it is a wonderful new therapy to experience this new form of shared experience. The Co-Creation Theatre Company has emerged from Prospero’s magic.

With Creation controlling our computers’ sound and internal camera , the spiky-haired Ariel, emerging from a tunnel to crawl towards us, conducts us all to manufacture the sound effects of Prospero’s tempest. In real time the screen flicks from one sofa to another, fellow theatregoers clicking their fingers in unison to make a surprisingly realistic sound of rain, then collectively clapping as the storm rages, banging items for the thunder. It is strikingly effective, and between shots of ourselves, we see fast-edited shots of characters in front of digitally-created locations weathering the tempest, swaying in the wind. Later in the play, Ariel turns us into stage managers, displaying different types of food for the feast scene, showing off pets, and howling like dogs as Caliban (PK Taylor) and Trinculo (Keith Singleton) are chased by spirits after their insurrection against Prospero.

Out of a crisis, Creation has innovated a theatrical experience that has lessons in engaging anyone who is isolated, whether by location, health or incapacity. People in hospitals, remote rural locations, in prison and many other locations, could all experience high quality interactive theatre like this. Creation, and its inspirational artistic director, Lucy Askew, has laid down a challenge for the entire industry to up its game to reach new audiences. This show, made in only two weeks, is a game-changer.

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