This is a timely revival of the Cornish Theatre’s Collective’s energetic adaptation of Paul Coelho’s parable of a young shepherd who dares to pursue his dream. The book has been back in the press recently, having been voted the most life-changing book and included among the BBC’s 100 big reads.
With just five actors, some bright orange blocks and silk drapes, this is theatre stripped to the essentials. There is something innocent in the direct style of storytelling, almost a little old-fashioned, as though the work of Complicite had somehow passed them by. The actors are physical in a show-and-tell way, but the mime is performed with clarity and precision.
At the opening of the play the stage looks set for a school assembly - there is the shepherd with his sheepskin jerkin, there is the Christ-like figure draped in blue fabric.
However, the magic this company weaves means that you soon cease to see adults in dressing-up clothes with building blocks, and are instead transported to northern Spain, to the bazaar of Tangiers, to the desert, to Egypt. Through their decision not to use any props, they create an imaginative gap that the audience leaps in and fills with its own particular version of these exotic landscapes. In our imaginations we see the hectic banter of the marketplace, the pyramids and the rich lushness of the oasis.
At times it is easy to forget that there are only five performers on the stage, as they take on the roles of all the characters and animals in the story, engaging in their characterisations with commitment and energy. The atmosphere of the transformed locations is aided by the use of music, clapping, and sound effects created by the actors.
Dominic Knutton’s direction is seamless. There is a simple fluidity in the telling, members of the company pick up the narration between the scenes and - as the actors never leave the space - the energy is never allowed to dip.
At times though the storytelling is at the expense of the sincerity of the lines. This is, after all, a book that has won acclaim through its mystical self-help wisdom. However, the lack of reverence frees the humour, and even those who dismiss the book as new-age nonsense, will find the theatrical adventure compelling.
- Antonia Windsor (reviewed at Chipping Norton Theatre)