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The Tempest - Open Air Performances
Published on Sunday, 24 July 2011

2 stars

Buxton Cricket Ground
15, 22 Jul, 6:00pm-8:00pm
Reviewed by Alice de Cent

Performing an outdoor production of The Tempest during a rainy Buxton July might be considered asking for it, but it wasn’t going to stop Theatre By Numbers getting through their performance. Staging the play on the Cricket Ground, there was little to denote the playing space – and though this added a certain spontaneous feel, the show could have benefited from more to frame the action.

The rain began to fall on audience and actors alike, but their trials weren’t limited to inclement weather: Karl Seth, who was to play Caliban, had unfortunately injured himself and was unable to take part in the scenes.  Instead, he sat in a chair off-stage to deliver his lines, while producer Paul Brandreth jumped into Seth’s costume to mime the on-stage action. 

Less easy to forgive is the decision to limit the cast to five, a choice which spread the actors a touch too thin. With little visual demarcation to the neutral costumes, it was primarily different accents that denoted the multiple characters – a challenge some actors rose to more than others. Further complications arose when Prospero, played with conviction by Ben Patterson, had to confront Alonso… also played by Patterson. Dropping character to decide who would take on the role of Alonso in this scene took the audience out of the action, somewhat. The play had started with the actors entering out of character, but I personally did not feel the conceit was sustained enough throughout the play to support such a choice.

All the same, valiantly striving against the weather, the cast gave their all to a very physical performance, often creating scenery with nothing more than their own bodies and a large sheet. Throwing themselves into the slapstick comedy, despite the ever-muddier Cricket Ground’s effect on their off-white costumes, they certainly delivered a lesson in perseverance.

Full of exuberance and remarkable commitment to perform against seemingly impossible odds, on this particular evening The Tempest was a testament to the endurance of the cast – and a nod should also go to the rain-soaked audience. However – despite all attempts – the constraints of a cast of five, the subsequently wavering accents, and the unfortunate injury of a crucial cast member produced rather muddled performances. The dedication of the company, however, cannot be faulted.

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