Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon
A musical adaptation of The Tempest in the company of hundreds of over-excited children in Croydon sounds like entering the Ninth Circle of Hell. Julian Chenery and Matt Gimblett manage to blast away all these preconceptions with their masterful and fun version of one of Shakespeare's finest plays, holding the audience of 8-18 year olds (and beyond) in thrall for well over two hours. Shakespeare4Kidz has been "bringing Shakespeare to the children of the world" for 17 years and a great job they do of it too. This is Shakespeare in a multi-media age, from show info delivered via smart-phone app rather than programme, to the use of video and the clever inclusion of popular culture references.
The story of Prospero and his daughter, Miranda, exiled to an island after being deposed as Duke of Milan by his evil brother Antonio and the revenge he exacts, is here told through song, dance and narrative. The text has been updated to modern idiom but without losing its links to the original and not avoiding the more hard-hitting story-lines, such as Prospero's enslavement of Caliban. For the single set, Prospero's books form a series of stages, ensuring that the audience is constantly reminded of the source of Prospero's magic.
Songs range from pop to comic to musical theatre and include some (possibly deliberately) dodgy rhymes (villain/Milan, Naples/tables) and some (probably not deliberately) dreadful lyrics - "I'd do what I could/I'd even move this wood" - but they are hummable. An exceptionally talented cast give it their all with Claire Coultry giving a stand-out performance as a delightfully impish Ariel. Ben Goodridge is authoritative as Prospero and Gary Roe's Trinculo is a comic joy. Noel Andrew Harron makes Caliban a writhing, resentful Gollum-esque creature. Glenn Lloyd and Harry Stone play Antonio and Sebastian as suitably hapless with some lovely comedy business as they plot against Alonso, the King of Naples (Sean Luckham).
Although the sound occasionally drowns out the performers and the back projections suffer against the stage lighting, this is a terrific production that will either have its audience rushing to the library to read the original text or booking tickets for more shows. Hopefully both. Whether it's Shakespeare or panto, anything that takes children away from their i-everythings and introduces them to the world of theatre can only be good and this production is so much better than "good". Buy a ticket when it comes your way, if your local schools haven't already snapped them all up.
-by Carole Gordon