A late summer evening: a glass of Pimms in your hand and an open picnic hamper at your feet. Enter the Three Inch Fools.
On the surface, director James Hyde’s production of The Tempest appears simple: touring Shakespeare returning to its roots, performed by a small company in the open air, with minimal set and few elaborate props or costumes.
As Shakespeare’s most temporally and geographically contained play, The Tempest suits this pared down treatment, and it takes very little for the Three Inch Fools to transform the performance space into Prospero’s magical island, with clever use of parts of a tepee to create the storm-tossed ship.
In fact, the whole performance is filled with similarly clever use of space, and a complex weaving together of actors, music and song, to give an overall illusion of simplicity.
Composer Stephen Hyde’s music certainly added to this illusion. His beautiful melodies haunt the play, infusing the drama with a pagan, ethereal feel. This is Shakespeare meets The Wicker Man, as Ariel’s unsettling lullabies draw the characters further into Prospero’s net. The lingering and evocative score is one of the strongest elements of this memorable production.
The production is also not without a very talented cast. Joe Skelton’s Prospero holds both characters and audience alike under his spell, commanding his scenes with palpable stage presence. With the help of Nat Spence, a powerful and yet beautifully vulnerable Ariel, his control over the other characters becomes utterly believable – particularly when he stands in the wings, confidently observing the blossoming tender relationship between Miranda (Emma Hewitt) and Ferdinand (Josh Maddison).
However, as in any good production of Shakespeare, plenty is made of the play’s rogue elements, too: the drunken sailors and their adoption of the island’s only native, Caliban (Wilson Smith). Smith adopts a fantastic physicality that utterly transforms him, into a piteous and occasionally disturbing Caliban.
This is one of a number of well-executed physical aspects in the play, including Ferdinand’s rescue from the shipwreck, and, of course, the antics of the two drunks: Stephano (Richard Leeming) and Trinculo (Stephen Hyde). Hyde’s more sombre drunken behaviour superbly complemented Leeming’s wild and elaborate gestures, spreading hilarity throughout the audience. In fact, both actors were so convincing that is was as though they and Smith had been swigging from a real bottle backstage.
Throughout the production, light summer comedy (as well as the play’s darker comedy) was perfectly pitched against the play’s more sinister back story. Under Hyde’s direction, both elements earned their place entirely, to create an entertaining and moving piece of theatre.
This is definitely a company to watch – and then to keep watching, again and again.