No-one could possibly accuse Stourbridge’s International Festival of Glass of lacking ambition or imagination. If you think that glass is basically either for looking at or looking through, the idea of glass theatre may be a bit of a stretch.
The Theatre of Glass, a collaboration between West Midlands-based PuppetLink and S.A.Marionetas of Portugal, has produced an experimental condensed version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which is providing a linking theme for a number of events in this year’s festival.
It is essentially a shadow-play using back-projection on to a large screen, making use of glass marionettes, water, still graphics and video.
It is performed to an elaborate musical score by Edward Briggs which itself makes extensive use of glass, including a collection of bowls which is effectively a glass gamelan. This tinkly, crystalline soundworld is further extended by acoustic and electric guitars and what appears to be a home-made, grid-like harp.
This unusual range of theatrical ingredients provides opportunities for effects which even the Royal Shakespeare Company would struggle to achieve. For example, as Ariel describes splitting himself in two, his shadow immediately does just that.
But overall, Wednesday’s preview performance had a provisional feel, as though the collaborators had set up the sweet shop but hadn’t quite worked out how to marshall its contents to clear theatrical effect.
The early scenes in particular were slightly confusing and random as we waited for a narrative to unfold. It seemed a long time before we were unmistakably at the shipwreck which opens the play, suggesting we might be in for an evening of epic length.
But in fact, once the play proper was underway – and it was a relief to be steered through it by Shakespeare’s text recast as a disembodied monologue – it proved to be a ruthlessly pared-down version of the play.
The general impression was of an interesting experiment which hinted at theatrical magic without quite delivering it. A certain solemnity of presentation was a little off-putting, but on the other hand was the wonderful incongruity of watching experimental theatre in a tiny public meeting hall in downtown Wordsley on a miserably unseasonable August evening.
* Running time: One hour Performances tonight, Saturday and Sunday. Richardson Hall, 10 Lawnswood Road, Wordsley, Stourbridge.