"Say goodbye to rough magic"
by Avril Silk for remotegoat on 25/07/19

Sometimes events in our lives cause a play or book or other work of art to resonate deeply within us, leaving us profoundly moved, by recognition, to connection with our self and others. Quakers say, ‘This speaks to my condition.’ Our own experiences sometimes overwhelm us to the point where we forget that others share them, but the things eternal – love, loss, joy, grief, birth, death – sooner or later affect us all. The power of ‘Clarke Andrews Tempest’ lies in that universality of experience. The show features a combination of live performance, film and computer generated images and is directed by Polly Agg Manning. The accomplished performances by Charlie Coldfield as desperately, tragically damaged silent movie star Clarke Andrews – (plus a host of well-defined supporting characters) – and acclaimed folk musician Jim Causley, was particularly timely for me. In the stunning setting of Exeter’s oldest building, St Nicholas Priory, watching the film star entangled and echoed in Shakespeare’s (to me) most eloquent play, I was engrossed in the lives of the actor and the characters, each struggling, and sometimes failing, to come to terms with the hand life dealt them. The clear connection between the tragedies of Caliban and Clarke, spiralling to self-destruction, was powerfully made, as was an alternative route, ultimately taken by Prospero, of forgiveness, acceptance and relinquishment. As Ariel, Jim Causley wittily leads us through the tangle as Charlie Coldfield conjures scenes from ‘The Tempest’ that illuminate Clarke’s story. As we waited for the play to begin, the young man at the box office referred audience members to the programme for the context of the play. Despite his efforts, I noticed several people put the programme away to read later, and my own companion wasn’t able to read it beforehand. I think this is a problem. I wouldn’t want heavy-handedness to spoil the delicate, ethereal atmosphere of Benjamin Borley’s filming, but in evoking the era of silent movies, it might have been an idea to use intertitles for clarity about Clarke’s life. Or maybe ‘The Lonesome Ballad of Clarke Andrews’? Benjamin Borley’s haunting film segments evoked for me the work of Benoît Sokal, creator of ‘Syberia’, a semi-realistic/semi-surrealistic adventure game. Images of the sea in all its aspects, taking and giving; leading us to death by drowning or safe harbour, link the stories of Prospero and Clarke Andrews. The accompanying score from The Dalwood Rocket complements the film work beautifully. I enjoyed seeing familiar locations, such as the funicular at Babbacombe, contributing subtly to the sense that this is a production rooted in the southwest. I am at a stage of my life when the theme of relinquishment is taking on meaning. That, and loving memories of my accordion-playing, folk-singing brother Michael, made the evening one of ‘rough magic’. I’m leaving the (almost) final word to a very different conjuror – Bruce Springsteen. In the end what you don't surrender Well, the world just strips away. Do catch a performance of ‘Clarke Andrews Tempest’. (And do read the programme beforehand!) The show is imaginative, creative and unique.

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