Marine Theatre, Lyme Regis
BR Rating ****
[Until Sunday 24 July]

By John Pownall

We know that Shakespeare used a multiplicity of sources, literary and historical. That The Tempest, the richest of his texts for what the academies call ‘postcolonial’ studies, derived in part from a true tale about colonists on their way to Virginia is perhaps no surprise. That there is a Lyme Regis connection certainly is surprising, however. The source narrative begins in the Dorset seaport in the early part of the seventeenth century, just as England was establishing its fledgling empire.

What a great idea, then, to weave together the two strands; the Shakespeare with the source. This is the premise of Andrew Rattenbury’s partial re-write. The action begins inside the theatre, and then the audience, players and musicians troop out at the end of the First Act to take in the rest of the production outside, just below the bar balcony, with the backdrop of Lyme Bay. This is site-specific theatre; we feel as though we are on an island, the July heatwave persuading us that we are somewhere very far away.

The idea largely works to great effect. The two stories segue into each other nicely, the actual storm and casting away being the touchstone for both tales. The thorny and problematic issue of Caliban’s subjection is not contextualised by the colonial narrative, which for some may have been a missed trick. Nevertheless, this is a production which generally plays for laughter more than reflection, and is highly entertaining as a result.

The writer, director and players have worked hard to give a sense that this is one vision, and that huge team effort, combined with wonderful music and soundscapes from Andrew Dickson and his assembled musicians, carries the night along at pace. Visually, the production is wonderful, with rich and varied costuming, and clever lighting and staging. For a first night, it was almost pitch perfect.

Performances are uniformly creditable. Anne King is a forceful Gonzala (feminised as with many characters in the production, no doubt by force of casting issues). Val Christmas is a very funny Trincula, adeptly abetted by John Simpson as the drunken Stephano. Ariel is cleverly portrayed by six young women who play her at once as a disparate voiced spirit. Marcus Wood is a wonderfully energetic and engaging Sebastian. The love story is beautifully captured by Bramble Wallace’s nuanced Miranda, and Joe Urqhart’s charming and masterful Ferdinand. Declan Duffy plays local penman Sylvester Jourdain with cheeky panache. There is no weak link in this broad cast of players young and old.

Nicola Kathrens plays Prospera (rather than Prospero), one of the most poetically stretching in Shakespeare’s works, with great energy and vitality. At the end, the audience showed her their considerable appreciation, richly deserved as simply getting all those lines right on the first night is a challenge for even the most adept professional.

This was a wonderfully exuberant production, brought to Lyme by its own people. The moment which stood out: a very young audience member’s searching eyes in the evening sky for a storm cloud described by Trincula, straight from the script. There wasn’t a storm cloud in the sky, of course, but the boy still tried to find it, so convinced was he by the rendition of the poetry. Such stuff as dreams are made on.