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Review: O Brave New World presents The Tempest (part 4)

It’s a stiflingly hot day in Shoreditch, which means the sight of a tall man in a full length military coat and hat, calling himself Uri and asking me if I’ve had any potassium recently, is stranger than usual. Even for this neck of the woods. But this is only the beginning of the bizarre experience that is O Brave New World.

Produced by theatre production company Retz, the project is performing Shakespeare’s The Tempest in six installments over as many months. Each time, an old disused shop on Hoxton Street is transformed into a surreal but all consuming set. Once I’ve queued up and received my temporary visa, Uri asks me to step inside a lift, which then judders slightly before letting me out in a bar, circa 1930. There’s vintage furniture, actors in dapper suits in amongst the audience. We’re in the thick of it.

After a few minutes and the offer of a drink from the bar, the cast slip into action. This is the fourth installment and only my first, which means I’m slightly lost in terms of the story. The acting, however, is of such a high standard and the set so engaging that I’m happy to be swept along with the madness.

This is networked narrative and no, I hadn’t heard of it either. According to Retz, “this storytelling technique means that each month focuses on a different part of the narrative. These sections or episodes are linked by a series of online videos, interactive content and websites relevant to each month’s content.” Well now you know. Out with “pop-up” and in with networked narratives I say.

Formed in 2010, Retz is led by theatre practitioner Felix Mortimer and filmmaker Simon Ryninks. The pair have been nominated for a Total Theatre Award and shortlisted for the Oxford Samuel Beckett Trust Award and clearly know their theatre.

The duo have an interesting concept, and one which is supported by Art In Empty Spaces, a Hackney Council project that hands out the keys of empty public building to art based initiatives that locals will find meaningful.

So the next time you’re walking down Hoxton Street and are approached by someone in strange attire asking daft questions, it might just be worth listening and allowing them to lead you in to the next installment sometime in July. Watch this empty space.

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