Islet of WonderFilm

  • Paul Edmondson

‘O Brave New World’ – Atmospheres of the Tempest

A Retz production,

January to July 2012

297 Hoxton Street, London N1, Hoxton Gardens and the Grand Union Canal


Reviewed by Polly Mortimer


This fantastical production reached its audience on many levels – the physical space (a small deserted shop in Hoxton), which shapeshifted every month, the blog, the three films that introduced the first three instalments, the ephemera garlanding the space, the concept and setting (a small island off the Republic of Borduria in the mythical 1950s), the flickering TV sets with Bordurian television shows, the border guard who patrolled the outside of the building and demanded passports (beautiful hardcopy documents with each instalment illustrated), the afterhours shows – singing by the Bordurian Working Women’s chorus, sea shanties, filmshows and communal listenings to recordings of the Tempest, booksales, the café and bar, the supper club with Bordurian delicacies, the golfcart leading us to the canal barge and rowing boat bearing Prospero and all the leading characters, the Urivision song contest .. a Tardis-like shop of pure delights.

Impossible to classify it into a neat box – each month the reveal was a complete shock.


The Six Ages of O Brave New World


At first The Wrack – a timberclad bar full of Bordurian kitsch and photos of famous Bordurians and staffed by Uri – with 50s soaps on a loop (bizarre grainy colour of beplaitted matrons bopping people on the head). Here was Caliban Trinculo and Stephano – plotting, drinking , playing tablefooty and delivering core Shakespeare into our laps.

Then A.R.I.E.L – the space made over to a tiny front office with mouldy Amstrad & poisoned pot plants and bar, at back a dark room dazzled with screens of a dreadful air crash and a tousled bed where Miranda lay speaking to Prospero through an intercom. Ariel was a disembodied recording (made by an actor who is the voice of Orange ansaphone) and the lovers trysted round the depressed benches and abilia of the outer office. Ferdinand ‘s logs were ennui-laden pieces of data.

And then Caliban’s Cave – again a rip out and rebuild to startle the addicted audiences who came back month after month. With text inspired by Tim Crouch’s I Caliban , Caliban sat sorting her mouldy fish and making a model plane (referencing the aircrash that brought the royals to the island) among the mazelike rubble and scrap that took up most of the height of the space. A tiny bar appeared tacked on at the back and halfway through the audience poked heads through scaffolding to see the island in model form against blazing blue walls. Bordurian hits crackled over the tannoy & occasionally women sang behind the pipes.

Then The Hotel – classy, musty and magical. Through passport control at the back of the shop as usual (showing your passport or visa), and slightly threatened by Borduroguards, the audience pressed into a shaking ‘lift’ and the doors opened on Kristupus the barman in evening togs mixing Klov Specials in a cocktail shaker and Alonso, Gonzalo and the plotters round the lobby playing dominoes and waiting for the sction to begin. The disembodied Ariel appeared this time at the back of the lift and victuals came in as croissants on a tea trolley. That strain of baddy plotted behind the bar and the frozen Alonso got pelted with boiled sweets.

And then Prospero’s Library – the remix this time was a crammed-to-the-ceiling storehouse of old books and stuffed animals. Nestling among the Observer book of Ferns and Cherry-Garrard’s biography we cradled Prospero’s words in our hands. He permits the wedding and welcomes the harvest goddesses through a tea hatch where books are returned. Trusty Bordurovision gave us endless shots of corn sheaves and smoking factories. The dreadful trio of Caliban, Trunculo and Stefano gained access through a shelf of books, punching out a row of encyclopaedias to crawl in through the reference section.

The last scene shifts to (vis Hoxton Square Gardens where the marriage is drunk in and best men speak among sarnies and scones, and the Chorus win the Urivisioon song contest hands down) the Port. A dreary ferry terminal with plastic seats and wonderfully eccentric souvenirs (seaweed, goggles, honey and metal bracelets) is where we wait, to then be karted by golfbuggy to the nearby Regent’s canal where Uri the warm up man saw us onto the blue and beautiful canal barge where Prospero began his solemn sign off, released Ariel and made peace with Alonso et al. Caliban and her drunks wildly paddled behind in a rowing boat and tears sprang when Miranda gave us O Brave New World under a block of new builds on the river bank near New North Road.


Shakespeare 2012 and for ever.

Author: Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson