June 17 2014

Few comic actors can make an audience laugh uncontrollably merely by their entrance, but Ben Dyson achieves this difficult feat with perfect aplomb.

Not generally known for its jokes, Shakespeare’s final play is taken to a new dimension by Miracle Theatre, which kicked off a 60-date tour at Sterts on Bodmin Moor at the weekend. The Cornish company’s fiftieth project in 35 years, their production of The Tempest, which will be seen across Cornwall and the wider South West until the end of August, looks set to be another huge success.

Crisp, inventive and very, very funny, the free adaptation may not find favour with Shakespeare purists – whoever they might be – but it will undoubtedly entertain thousands at some 45 open-air venues this summer.

Opening with a pre-show warm-up that sees an athletic Catherine Lake as Ariel clambering atop Alan Munden’s cleverly designed and constructed set, Miracle’s version neatly conveys the early scenes of shipwreck with character puppets of the main protagonists.

Thus, we set sail to Shakespeare’s magical island of Prospero, Miranda and Caliban. Deftly moving between parts are Ciaran Clarke, Hannah Stephens, Simon Norbury Lisa Howard and, of course, Ben Dyson as Alonso, who has brought such intelligence and humour to more than a dozen previous Miracle shows.

From the moment a shipwrecked Alonso is tossed on to the shore like a large wet fish, we’re off on the sort of well-paced ride fans of this much-loved Cornish company have come to expect.

Adapted, as ever, by Miracle founder Bill Scott, The Tempest has been reduced by a third and trimmed to 11 parts for the six actors. Hannah Stephens conjures a deliciously saucy Miranda; Ferdinand is the first man, other than her father, she has ever encountered – and she going to make the most of it. Ariel is assured, properly mischievous, and a joy to watch, while Ben Dyson delivers another serene performance as Stephano the sailor. Few actors can play drunk with such precision, never quite finding the necessary centre of gravity.

Bill Scott, whose previous adaptations have included Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet and The Taming Of The Shrew, makes no secret of his love of playing with Shakespeare.

“What we always try to do with Shakespeare is make it clear, so that it is watchable and entertaining,” he said. “And adapting Shakespeare is such a joy to do. Hacking away at genius sometimes feels awful but I feel that if he was trying to communicate with a 21st century audience he would be doing similar things with his own work. He would be the last one to want people scratching their heads and wondering what was going on, because he was about entertaining people.

“For that reason we never trash the plays and are always true to the spirit of the original text.”

A director whose first foray with Miracle was a production of The Ordinalia at Perran Round in 1979, is now beginning work on a winter show, Dr Livingstone, I Presume, as well as planning for an autumn premiere screening Tin.

Until then, The Tempest can be seen at Lynmouth, Hartland, Gulval and Gwinear this week, followed by dates across the South West. For full details visit miracletheatre.co.uk SIMON PARKER