If you’re driving all the way to an industrial estate just west of Oxford city centre for an evening out, then you want to make sure that it is a memorable evening. Well, this production of The Tempest certainly fits the bill!
Creation Theatre has taken my favourite Shakespeare play and turned it into an immersive treasure-hunt of a performance covering all of the Osney Mead industrial estate and some of the surrounding woodland (including an island, appropriately enough). This requires more than the average amount of audience participation: you are advised to bring comfortable shoes and be dressed for all kinds of weather. A sense of humour would not be amiss either! There were some potentially embarrassing encounters with dog-walkers or joggers who stared in disbelief at the group of adults, crouching, holding hands and singing…
The show starts in a benign manner. You are given a ‘passenger ticket’ with a colour-coded lanyard as you enter the King’s Centre event space. Each colour is assigned to a different table in the great hall, which is decorated as if you were on board a cruise ship. You are served drinks, chat to your fellow participants and prepare to welcome the Royal Family: the King of Naples, the Duke of Milan and other members of retinue.
Of course, as we know, the happy cruise ship entertainment does not last long. The storm soon blows each of the groups away from their table and so a journey of adventure and discovery begins. There are around ten ‘stations’ throughout the venue, and the groups rotate from one to the next. Our group started on the banks of a river, trying to console a distraught King Alonso, who fears he has lost his beloved son in the storm. Other stations included a decorated double-decker bus where we witnessed Prospero’s plans for revenge with the help of Ariel, a coffee shop where Ferdinand and Miranda meet and fall in love, a shack where we were encouraged to search for clues about Prospero’s past and an office building where we watched CCTV footage. I cannot tell you much more than that, because the surprises and jokes are all part of the experience.
At the end, we all came together back in the big hall, which was now kitted out for a wedding, with a bit of a magic show thrown in for free.
If this sounds far removed from the traditional view of Shakespeare, you would be absolutely right. Shakespeare does lend itself to endless versatility of interpretation, but nevertheless there was much there to please the purists. The dialogues between characters were mostly the original lines from the play, and there was added poignancy in seeing Caliban imprisoned and Ariel bullied, being asked to help them and having to keep secrets because you were not quite sure whom you could trust (even if you are familiar with the play).
It must have taken an almost superhuman amount of organisation to perfect the coordination and timing, but above all to give each of the participants a sense of chronology of the story. Certainly our experience seemed to follow the timeline of the play reasonably closely, but I’d be curious to know about the experiences of other participants, who started at a different point along the way.
Highly recommended, if you are able and willing to walk and don’t mind not taking yourself too seriously. Well worth a trek to Oxford, especially for reluctant theatre-goers, who might have given up on Shakespeare in the past.
Creation Theatre is an Oxford based theatre company that specialises in making classics of world literature come to life in unusual spaces. The Tempest is on until the 15th of August, while their next production will be Don Quixote in the Covered Market in Oxford.