I headed out to Bella Vista Farm, braving the M4, a hastily packed picnic of New Year leftovers and a local swarm of European wasps to see two of Shakespeare's shipwreck plays, 'The Comedy of Errors' and 'The Tempest'.
When you first arrive and walk up the 'yellow brick road' to the first play's performance location, prepare to be greeted by the Duke of Ephesus himself, Christopher Tomkinson (and I do love a man in uniform), as he checks the crowd for potential spies and directs you to the safe haven of the grassy knoll to unpack the food for nature to devour. It's a lovely way to start, combined with a raffle for Shakespeare's Complete Works signed by the cast, and sets the scene to come.
First up was 'The Comedy of Errors' directed by Terry Karabelas. 'Comedy' is probably the easier of the plays for a general audience to engage in, given it's lighter and less problematic than the darker 'Tempest'. The use of the homestead and all its surrounds is a real highlight of 'Comedy'. I'm not sure how much was established and how much set designer Nick Catran built but it's a clever use of location by director Karabelas. It embellished scenes where confusion was ripe for comedy, quick entrances and exits and classic slapstick, making it all the more enjoyable for its audience.
There are some great performances from the entire cast and special mentions to the Antipholus', Scott Sheridan and Anthony Gooley, the Dromio's- George Banders and Aaron Tsindos, Amy Mathews as Adriana and a shout out to the lovely physical interpretation of her character Luciana, Eloise Winestock. It's what we've come to expect from Sport for Jove- a polished and professional interpretation.
'The Tempest' takes you away from your picnic blanket and uses processional theatre, moving us from the woolshed to the huge oak trees with the moon as a spectacular backdrop. Whilst director Matt Edgerton creates some beautiful images and moments, there is a sense the constant movement to locations slightly reduces the momentum of the play and the actors have to work hard to get us back into the performance. Thankfully the skill of actors Damien Ryan as Prospero, Lizzie Schebesta as Miranda and Yalin Ozucelik as Caliban deliver the goods.
The addition of original songs by actress Naomi Livingston as Ariel were a nice inclusion, although they didn't always hit the mark but her scenes with Ryan's Prospero were the magic that was missing in her other scenes, especially those that delved into a sexual tension between the two in a kind of Stockholm Syndrome relationship.
Another highlight is lighting designer Toby Knyvett for making sure that each outdoor location was lit to perfectly capture the atmosphere of each play and try doing that in an outdoors space. An outstanding achievement.
One of the smart choices Sport for Jove understand is how to best combine the experience of practitioners like Karabelas and Ryan and young talent like Edgerton to not only inject the fresh vision of an up and coming talent but to temper this with the steady hand of those at the top of their game.
These plays may not pack the punch of their 'Hamlet' or Jeffreys' 'The Libertine' but it is infinitely enjoyable and well worth the trip into the sticks to see them.
But make sure you pack the Aeroguard and a banana lounge.