Sunday, 4 August 2013

EODS The Tempest

Last night I went to see EODS's production of The Tempest, in my job I see a lot of shows on an almost daily basis. I've never blogged about one before, but this is different. It's different because it blew me away!

Shakespeare's plays are always difficult to do well and if they aren't done extremely well then it is all too easy for the actors to lose their audience. It's simply a fact that the language he uses along with the similes and metaphors are not easily understood by today's audiences. A Shakespeare play is certainly not something you should attempt to watch if you have no prior knowledge of it, you'll likely get lost quite quickly.

That said, the quality of all the performances were truly outstanding. EODS is an amateur dramatics group, words that are sure to bring most professionals out in a cold sweat :-) However in this production there wasn't a single performer who didn't deserve their role. This is even more impressive when you learn that the lead Mike Barber (Prospero) only took on the part the week before due to the original actor having to pull out at the last minute. The fact he learnt his lines is astonishing, that he did so and put on such a strong performance is a testament to his abilities. Mike wasn't alone in taking over at short notice though, director Gareth Brighton had to step into the role of Stephano when James Bell was taken ill. Both he and Nick Carn as Trinculo played a great double act together with Nick ending up coming off worse having to take two full submersions in the pool.

Finally David Fricker as Ariel was also a fairly late addition to the cast, but his interpretation of the character was fantastic. He was very spritely in his movements and mannerisms, even when the action wasn't focused on him he remained very ethereal.

For a production beset with problems during the rehearsal period it certainly didn't show in the performances!

A stunning setting with superb staging, above
Nick Carn as Trinculo and David Fricker as Ariel
This year the choice of play really couldn't have suited the location any better. Taking place at Holywell's Italian Gardens the backdrop of the sea is the ideal setting for a play based on an island! The stunning view was aided by the natural sound effects of the waves lapping against the shore with the birds and other natural wildlife all playing their part to add to the atmosphere.

The innate beauty of the surroundings was enhanced by the fabulous staging built primarily by Ashley Jones. The central pond flanked by two catwalks and a bridge gave the actors a great set on which to work. It also had some nice hidden features that made for some memorable moments, most notably Ariel appearing from the opposite side of the arena after hiding in a wooden trunk. No doubt the input of legendary magician Paul Daniels as the magic advisor for the production played its part here. Also Calibans first entrance through the smoke from a trap door in the catwalk was simple yet tremendously effective. Mr Daniels input was evident in other small touches too and it all added to help flesh out the characters. It would have been all too easy to let the temptation of the magic overpower the show, but all the effects used felt right and were played well.

With the production starting before sunset you don't really notice the lighting until you come back from the interval. By then the moon is shining down and Douglas Morgan's design is able to take over from the sun, it's a difficult space to light with the limited resources available but he managed to do a superb job. There are general washes to make sure everything is lit well, but also numerous additions to highlight certain actors at key points. The lighting is subtle but crucial to the overall experience.

The full company
Sound is used at several points, and if there was a weak link, then this is where it lies. Although the spot effects for magical moments and storms were all good and worked well within the action, the quality of the PA was poor. It's a shame as so much more could have been made of the sound but it seems the equipment was holding them back. While being picky, the only other area that could have been improved was the set dressing. Rocks were represented with some painted ground row flats, it would have made a huge difference if they had been able to source some real rocks. Finally, the pond lining could have been disguised a bit, the blue plastic did stand out a little. But these are small things that in no way detracted from the piece as a whole.

The night I was there it was a complete sell out, and the reputation they have built over the years is well deserved. Unfortunately by the time this is posted the run will have ended, but you should never the less try to see one of their future productions!

Photos: Copyright Paul Spink, used with permission.

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