British Company Shakespeare4Kidz was founded in the mid-1990s and since 1997 has been bringing Shakespeare’s works to the masses in both the UK and beyond in a style that is accessible to all, especially children. The texts are re-worked by Julian Chenery and Matt Gimblett, a partnership that has flourished over two whole decades. The language is brought up to date, and songs are added to reinforce the story-telling, then the show goes on tour playing daytime shows to school groups as well as evening performances ideal for whole families to enjoy. About 9 years ago I joined a group of children from my local primary school as a parent helper and saw Romeo and Juliet which I remember being an absolute hoot (until the serious stuff near the end); the Montagues were all in Hawaiian shirts and chinos and the Capulets were styled as 1940s gangsters and their molls. The ten and eleven year olds we took were transfixed.
Yesterday I was lucky enough to see this theatre company in action for a second time. This time they were performing The Tempest, Shakespeare’s final play, and I was in the company of 120 twelve and thirteen year olds who were slightly tougher to impress. I, however, absolutely loved it. From the opening number in which Prospero wielded his magic staff to make the sea boil and sailors were tossed around on the ship’s deck, it was a fast-moving and totally engrossing tale, full of magic, revenge, humour and romance. The songs were especially wonderful and stuck in my head for the rest of the day. There were plenty of laughs at the drunken antics of Trinculo, jester at the court of the King of Milan, Stephano, the King’s butler, and Caliban.
For those who don’t know the story here is an extremely potted version:-
Prospero and his daughter have been living on a deserted island for twelve years since several dubious characters deposed him as Duke of Milan and he fled to escape the coup. Apart from those two, there is one other human on the island, the bad-mannered and foul-tempered Caliban who serves as a slave. When Prospero hears that the men who cheated him out of his position are all aboard a ship in the vicinity, he conjures up a violent storm with the help of a friendly spirit, Ariel. The men from the ensuing shipwreck are washed up on the shores of Prospero’s island and, through the wonder of magic, and the mischief-making of Ariel, all are made to atone for the wrongs they have committed. All except for Ferdinand, Prince of Milan, who was only a child at the time of the coup and who falls in love with Prospero’s daughter, Miranda. No-one is hurt; no-one is killed; it all ends very amicably. Even Caliban apologises for being a monstrous bugbear.
Shakespeare4Kidz has toured with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Macbeth, Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet as well as the current The Tempest. They run workshops for children, supply resources to teachers and make play packs to enable schools to put on their very own productions of S4K plays. Their productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth are available on DVD from the website. and this year a feature film of S4K’s Romeo and Juliet is in production.
“Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.” Caliban