In Oxford, Creation Theatre Company is synonymous with invention and their latest production of The Tempest is packed with innovation and surprise for even the most ardent Shakespeare follower. Whatever performances and productions of this Shakespearean classic you have seen before, I guarantee this immersive version will be different – wildly and wonderfully so.
You take your place on a large cruise ship as staff glide through in crisp white and smooth jazz provides the background music for Titanic elegance, glitz and glamour. A royal party are welcomed aboard including Sebastianne, the sister of the King of Naples, in an amendment to the traditional line-up. As you’d expect, the course of events doesn’t run smooth: a storm whips up around you, scattering small parties of participants in groups of eight-to-twelve across Osney Island, the domain of exiled magician Prospero.
Creation Theatre have broken down the story of The Tempest into about twelve ‘stations’ in geographically-distinct spots. Each is different in style and tells a standalone episode from the overall play in which the audience participate (whether with interactive physical comedy or by helping a character or two further their own narrative). This might be an escape room-type conundrum, or an interaction between characters down a winding path alongside a leafy Thames tributary. A great deal of careful thought has gone into both masterfully subdividing the plot so together, whatever their order, the parts create the entirety of the original and the seamless logistics that guide the groups around independently so that their paths don’t cross as they cover the considerable ground (just over 3km).
This is a light-hearted modern approach as key speeches from Shakespeare’s pen are interspersed with the everyday moments and language. With security checks at regular intervals and contemporary touches as each character adds their piece to the jigsaw – from computer hacking, printing and phone-calls, cars and a recommissioned Hop-On-Hop-Off bus – the flavour of the show is fun first and foremost.
Zombies made an appearance in a way that was surprisingly and brilliantly terrifying considering we did know they were actors in a show we’d chosen to be part of. I was convinced that Hannibal Lecter had been cast as the witch Sycorax and that I wouldn’t make it out alive. If you plan to take younger children with a more sensitive disposition, you’ll need to dissipate any fearful moment with a touch of joviality before the next bout of foolishness and frivolity kicks in.
Because you are like a detective piecing the story together, if you don’t know the plot well, I strongly recommend that you familiarise yourself with the story and key characters first to prevent finding yourself adrift. It’s worth getting to know the King, the Duke Prospero, their siblings, their respective children Ferdinand and Miranda who fall in love, the servants Caliban and Ariel and, last but not least, the King’s jester Trinculo whom it took me a while to place in the first two ‘stations’ that my group visited. The characters were strong and lively, using ad libs and improvised jokes to make the performance particularly personal. The King was particularly good, although with a worrying touch of Boris Johnson, and Ariel exuded a bright-eyed energy. Ferdinand and Miranda’s coffee bar romance and the stag party that followed were wonderfully comic, before we headed back to the mothership for a finale at a feast. There, their wedding took place in a relatively relaxed setting. After a family affray and a rewind and reset, audience members were up on their feet for the final fling.
This fabulous mix of Shakespeare and twenty-first century immersive theatre brings a Sherlock adventure together with midsummer magic.Take a cruise with Creation Theatre on their tempestuous seas because Prospero’s Mediterranean island has never been so much fun.
The Tempest runs until 15 August - book your tickets here.