Latest staging of The Tempest in Falmouth creates a virtual storm with
innovative use of advanced communications technology
An innovative performance in Cornwall of Shakespeare’s 400-year-old play The Tempest has explored how technology could change the way theatrical plays are performed and watched in what is believed to be a world first.
Actors from Cornwall-based Miracle Theatre Company performed the play at two different locations to two audiences linked together using an advanced video system powered by superfast broadband.
Unmanned cameras at each location captured the performance and streamed it live over the superfast connection to screens at the other location and to audiences at home, watching on the internet. It is believed to be the first time in the world that a production performed at two locations in this way has been transmitted over the internet to people at home.
The performance took place at the Discovery Quay in Falmouth with six actors carrying out their roles at the Maritime Museum and another two performing at the nearby Doghouse, the headquarters of creative production studio, Dogbite.
The theatrical experiment was the brainchild of Vconect, Miracle Theatre Company and Superfast Cornwall. Vconect is a European research project funded by the European Union within its Seventh Framework Programme for Research,of which BT and Falmouth University are partners. It aims to use the latest technology and video to enable mass communication within communities.
Marian Ursu, professor of interactive media and scientific director of the Vconect project, said: “Fast broadband connections are enabling new forms of theatrical experience. In this production we are using automatically controlled cameras to link a single play, acted between two locations, each with its own audience and to simultaneously transmit it to an on-line audience. It’s a world first and it is great to be doing it in the context of one of Shakespeare’s finest plays.”
Bill Scott, founder and artistic director of Miracle Theatre Company, said: “This year, Miracle celebrates 35 years of touring into the heart of communities who often have little or no access to quality theatre – it’s at the core of what we do.
“This project offered us a fantastic opportunity to stretch our creative brains and do something completely different with our production of The Tempest. Using the latest digital technology, we were able to re-create our island world in two different places. I am particularly proud of the cast, this project challenged so many aspects of how they traditionally perform, having to interact with each other both on the stage and on screen. We hope everything we have learned will not only feed into the successful development of Vconect, but also Miracle’s future. In the long run, we hope experiments like this will enable us to reach people in more places, and in completely different ways!”
Superfast Cornwall, a partnership between the EU, Cornwall Council and BT, supported the experiment with funding from Superfast Cornwall Labs, an initiative set up to push the boundaries of what is possible using superfast broadband and the benefits it can offer to Cornwall and Isles of Scilly.
Ranulf Scarbrough, Superfast Cornwall programme director for BT, said: “Shakespeare was a true trailblazer in his day, but probably even he would not have imagined how around 400 years later we’d be using technology like this to enable audiences to enjoy his work in this way. It is another great example of the huge opportunities for innovation offered by high-speed fibre broadband. Superfast broadband can transform the way we do business, the way we live and now even the way we watch the theatre.”
The Tempest – Re-Shaken & Stirred! Mon 8th & Tues 9th Sept, 7.30pm Falmouth
One theatre company. One play. Two venues.
Two completely different, yet shared, experiences.
This September, Miracle Theatre continues pushing digital boundaries with an experimental production of The Tempest that will take place in two different Falmouth venues – simultaneously!
Working in partnership with the Superfast Cornwall programme and the EU co-funded research project Vconect, Miracle will be using new technology being developed to connect groups to reinvent its production of Shakespeare’s classic play.
If you would like to join in this experiment, we’d love you to see you there.
Expect the unexpected and let’s see what happens!
Mon 8th & Tues 9th Sept, 7.30pm.
Meet at National Maritime Museum Cornwall, 6.45pm for 7.30pm performance.
Tickets cost £6 and are extremely limited – advance booking essential.
To join us for a live theatre experience at the forefront of digital technology – BOOK HERE
“This really is Shakespeare for all ages!”
“This really is Shakespeare for all ages, generally recognised as one of the best entry plays, and underlined by wit, cheek, broad humour, lots of magic and a feral sexiness that shouldn’t offend anyone!” The FTP Blog
“Full of surprises!”
“SHAKESPEARE’S final play, full of “this rough magic” has been given a good going over by Miracle Theatre and the result casts a whole new light on the work which even the most conservative fan of the Bard would applaud. With a cast of only six actors, many roles are doubled up and some are extinguished altogether while the dialogue is modernised in startling fashion at times. But the theme of family rivalry and reconciliation holds true throughout in this outdoor production that is full of surprises”
“Theatre is an activity that everyone can enjoy”
Bill Scott interviewed by What’s On Editor, Lee Trewhela
IT’S EASY to forget now there’s such a healthy theatre scene in Cornwall, but it was a very different scenario back in 1979.
That was the year the county’s masterful Miracle Theatre started, but according to its artistic director Bill Scott it was a very different time.
He told me: “Footsbarn were about to leave for France as the local council wouldn’t fund them and Kneehigh were yet to start – it felt very bleak.”
However, the departure of the now legendary Footsbarn was the catalyst needed for Miracle.
Bill added: “Footsbarn were a huge influence on me. I’d walked into their tent on The Lizard and what I saw changed things for me.
“I’d done repertory theatre but was running a health food shop at the time. However, I got together with a couple of friends who were actors and we put on an irreverent version of the Ordinalia called The Beginning Of The World.
“People were staging the Ordinalia 700 years ago in Cornwall – that was the antecedence of what we were to do.”
That show was seen by approximately 2,000 people. The estimated audience for their 35th anniversary production of The Tempest this summer is 15,000.
Bill said: “We had to persuade people it was okay to put on a play in their park, beach or castle. I suppose we were groundbreaking really.”
He describes Miracle’s choice of production (often three different shows a year) as “very random” though there is always a Shakespeare play every three or four years.
“There was a lot of historical stuff originally as we worked for English Heritage in the early 1980s,” he said. “That’s when we honed our particular type of comedy where the audience is right in your face. I think the turning point for us was a Dark Ages comedy called The Scapegoat.
“We got some funding from the Foundation for the Sports and Arts, which got us a van. Things got bigger – I remember Quasimodo at the Minack, where we had a huge scaffolding tower; that show was expensive by our standards.”
He added that Miracle favourite The Case Of The Frightened Lady, on the other hand, is a little show but one with a big future.
“We revived it this year because it’s so popular and works on lots of different levels. We have an eye on taking it further, but need a good producer on board.”
I commented on the bravery of touring Samuel Beckett’s opinion-splitting Waiting For Godot across the South West last summer.
Bill said: “At Bude I watched the audience come straight from the beach and was really not sure it was going to work, but they loved it.
“That’s proof that theatre is an activity that everyone can enjoy.”
This year Miracle celebrates its 35 years of producing inventive and enjoyable theatre with that new production of The Tempest, which began a 60-date last month.
Bill said of the play: “We’ve brought out the comedy and condensed it – a third of the play has gone so it’s not an endurance test, but the purists should still enjoy it. Hopefully, audiences won’t realise they’re not watching ‘normal’ Shakespeare.
“I’ve changed the language so it’s not archaic, though the speeches are fundamentally the same – no complaints yet, unlike when we staged Hamlet and I’d introduced a new scene at the beginning. An old chap stood up quite dramatically, shouted ‘piffle’ and stormed off – the audience found that very amusing.”
This anniversary year should also see the completion of the film version of 2012’s superb Tin.
“We’ve not got the money for a big marketing campaign, we hope it will sell itself at film festival and with distributors. It will also tour World Heritage Sites and there is an audience for Cornwall and mining history in America and Australia,” Bill added.
“We have Arts Council funding for the next three years; it feels like a new beginning. Miracle now tours to 100 venues, mostly in the South West, but also places like Canary Wharf where we put on free shows for people leaving the office.
“We had 500 people watching Waiting For Godot there last year.”
Miracle’s next show will be Dr Livingstone I Presume, telling the story of Livingstone, Stanley and the partition of Africa through Music Hall songs in a pop-up proscenium theatre.
Bill concluded: “I start with an idea – and with 50 shows, I don’t start as interested in some as others, but once I start researching the subject, I get obsessed with all of them.
“It’s a gift really – I’m very lucky to have a job I love doing.”
“Crisp, inventive and very, very funny”
Simon Parker WMN
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
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Stash the cash in your piggy bank and spend it on your Tempest picnic instead… happy days.
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