Elemental: image via The Reviews Hub

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub and published here.

Uninvited Guests and Fuel
Directed by Paul Clarke
Contact Manchester
26th-27th November 2015

Picking up where The Tempest left off, this show sees Ariel (Jessica Hoffman) and Caliban (Richard Dufty), Shakespeare’s island-dwelling misfits, finally left alone together. Their journey to mutual understanding unfolds through a mixture of theatre, musical numbers and soundscapes created live by the cast with onstage musician Neil Johnson.

Shakespeare wrote several songs into The Tempest and they are rendered by Johnson in a guitar-driven indie rock style which, while innovative, is perhaps the least successful part of the show. It doesn’t seem particularly connected with the atmospheric noises and mystical effects created by Hoffman and Dufty as they explore their newfound freedom and burgeoning companionship.

The set is intriguing: a collection of rocks and logs set up inside a bare stage with exposed workings and Johnson’s mixer and instruments to one side. Even the rocks and logs turn out to have hidden microphones and speakers, part of the way Ariel and Caliban make their elemental music. Both of them are decked out in fantastical costumes designed by Monika Bereza which, when paired with jeans, give a surreal effect that marries the present before us to The Tempest‘s mythical past.

At some times, we explore themes that The Tempest only sketches out; at others, we turn the tables on Shakespeare. A brilliant section sees Ariel and Caliban, giddy with liberty, berate the audience with curses and insults from the original play, repurposing Shakespeare’s words. If this seems a tad literary it’s because the company have approached the text in an academic manner, researching previous adaptations and interpretations. This approach is entertainingly poetic, but occasionally delves too far into its own cleverness. An overlong discussion of wise Gonzalo’s speech, envisioning a self-sufficient island utopia, falls a little flat.

Hoffman and Dufty don’t play your average Ariel and Caliban, but instead expertly balance modern speech patterns with Shakespearean quotation. Although mythical creatures, they are very human, victims of Prospero’s abuse and imprisonment. It’s a pleasure to see them – and hear them – enjoy the freedom of their wild and storm-washed island.

Star rating: *** Intriguing