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Tales from King James (Oxford)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
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Creation Theatre are nothing if not innovative. After their recent production of Doctor Faustus performed in a bookshop with a cast of five, they are now presenting Tales from King James in St Barnabas Church – one of the most beautifully decorated spaces in Oxford. The piece was devised by director Helen Tennison and her cast and aims to tell many of the 'best stories' from the King James version of the Bible using only two actors!

With the 400th anniversary of the famous translation, we have seen many different celebrations of the text this year. The Globe did their complete reading over Easter, BBC Radio 4 dedicated many hours to documentaries and readings and there have been a huge range of books published. So it is not a surprise that a theatrical adaptation would come along. However can 80 minutes of devised theatre really capture the grandeur of a text that has been so influential over the centuries?

On the basis of what I saw tonight, the answer has to be no.

The overall impression I am left with is of a piece of work that feels like over-earnest Theatre in Education – lots of energy, lots of commitment but ultimately unsatisfying as a rounded piece of stagecraft. The moments that work the best are where the text is allowed to speak for itself – the power is very much in the words. The more obviously devised sections can, at times, feel more akin to something from a Sunday School than vibrant, modern theatre.

I do not doubt the hard work that has gone into the preparation of the production. The two actors (husband and wife team – Tom Peters and Raewyn Lippert) are clearly driven to give their all with absolute sincerity. However the material does not feel properly structured with some rather clunky attempts to build a narrative/thematic framework that do not properly pay off. I can see why each story was delivered in a different style but that does, in the end, lead to a rather fragmented feel to the whole piece.

There are some good moments. I was particularly taken with the use of cloth puppets in the story of Lot and his wife and the use of fabric to create the ship and the whale in the Jonah section was strikingly effective. The lighting by Ashley Bale and the sound by Matt Eaton both add to the atmosphere of the piece and make good use of the stunning surroundings provided by the church.

Much as it pains me to say it, I cannot recommend this and that is a shame. Supporting local theatre companies is important. I really hope that their next offering – Antony and Cleopatra – is a more successful piece of work.


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