This collaboration on The Tempest marks the 50th anniversary of the Royal Shakespeare Company and also of the Little Angel puppet theatre in Islington, always a delightful venue to visit in its beautiful little square in Dagmar Passage off Upper Street.
Playing at just 75 minutes, with a hectically doubling cast of seven and two main puppets for Ariel and Caliban, Peter Glanville’s production, using a text he’s edited with Phil Porter, is more than a digest, but it is fairly skimpy.
And the puppets don’t take on the animated beauty of the equine structures in War Horse, let alone those in the two companies’ last collaboration on Venus and Adonis. Ariel is a boring little Pinnochio with a squeaky voice, Caliban a dull mixture of Shrek and rubber dinosaur, both visibly manipulated on the stage.
The human properties of neither are a factor in this production, which immediately cauterises half the play. All the emotion is generated by David Fielder’s gruff and twinkly Prospero, striking his staff like a match on the grey set of Laura McEwen to conjure the storm.
But in the wake of Declan Donnellan’s compelling Russian version of the play at the Barbican, this is small beer indeed, with four flying seagulls and a curved, clunky cavern that makes the island look like something on children’s television, an impression neatly undermined by drunken Stephano pissing into a bucket.
The banquet parade of silver dishes reveals some very unappetising scaly creatures, but I quite like the emblematic representation of the broken ship and the clothes of court which are suddenly transformed into barking dogs.
Ferdinand (Christopher Staines) has twiglets for logs, and carries them around in a gold tunic from stock wardrobe: Anneika Rose’s wooden Miranda has the impossible task of suggesting she’s fallen in love with this trite apparition.
Some of the quick-change stuff is laughable, and Antonio and Sebastian draw pen-knives to bump off the sleeping usurpers. But there is some adept music and extra lyrics by Ben Glasstone to fill in the self-inflicted gaps in the plotting. A tempest in a tea-cup.