East meets West in new adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest
It will be something of a dream homecoming for Paddy Hayter when he and the renowned Footsbarn travelling theatre company arrive on Westcountry soil next month to share their new Shakespeare adaptation, Indian Tempest.
The last time he performed at Hall for Cornwall was in the days when it was still a humble market hall.
"It was the first place where Footsbarn made £1,000 in a day by putting on two performances, I think it was of Robin Hood, back in the 1970s," says Paddy – a stalwart of the company which started life in a Cornish outbuilding – the Foots' barn of their title – but has been resident in central France now for nearly three decades.
Paddy will also make a long overdue return to Exeter's Northcott Theatre, where he cut his teeth as a teenage student assistant stage manager for "£2 a week and do as you're told" more than 40 years ago.
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"Footsbarn actually did The Tempest there in the late 1970s or early 80s, but we haven't played there since," he says. "It will be great to get back to England to perform."
Doing as you're told certainly isn't part of the Footsbarn ethos. Known for their heady mix of traditional performing arts, street theatre, circus skills, mime and carnival, their policy is something more like "push the boundaries, open your arms wide to audiences and great spectacles will be shared".
In spite of the company facing quite desperate financial difficulties in recent months, that spirit is loud and clear in Indian Tempest; Footsbarn do things their own way, or not at all – even if the coffers are running desperately low.
They have, for once, left their customary big top-style tent behind in France for this leg of the journey to take to more solid – and economically viable – stages, but no other concessions have been made.
Indian Tempest takes the heart and bones of Shakespeare's early 17th century play and embellishes them with East meets West culture, flamboyant costume, a myriad masks, a smattering of puppetry and a thrilling live soundtrack to bind it all together.
"We edit, but we don't destroy," explains Paddy, who directs as well as playing Caliban, the reluctant and monstrous island servant of Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, whose plot is to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful courtly position.
The production has a strong flavour of the lush coastal southern Indian state of Kerala, where it began its life and where Footsbarn have built up a longstanding connection with the players of the Abhinaya Theatre Village at Trivandrum – a couple of whom have joined the company for their international tour.
"We first went out to Kerala back in 1995 or '96 and that relationship has never ended," says Paddy.
"We have a deep friendship with these people and we love working together.
"Our Prospero is the head of the Abhinaya company, and one of the musicians is from India too. They are very passionate about theatre out there and it is a real culture in that sense, based on rituals that date back more than 2,000 years.
"I'm dreaming of the day we can go out there and perform with them on a tour of India."
Indian Tempest premiered with a residency at Guimarães in Portugal as part of the European Capital of Culture 2012. Footsbarn took it to an outdoor Shakespeare festival in Dublin earlier in the summer, and have staged several performances in France.
"The set is made from fishing nets, some from Kerala, some from Portugal; there's a lot of shadow work and a lot of very beautiful music," says Paddy.
"We have a wonderful set of actors and musicians; put that together with a great story and it is a perfect mix."
Acknowledged as one of the Bard's greatest plays, The Tempest is set on a timeless imaginary island, a world of spirits, shapes and monsters, where music rules everything.
It provides a backdrop for magic and illusion, desire and romantic love, dreams and ambition, as well as treachery and torment, all with a comedic edge.
The Footsbarn version is played out in speech and song in four different languages – English, French, Sanskrit and Malayalam, from Kerala.
"We don't use subtitles," says Paddy. "Theatre must come from the actors and only 30 per cent of communication is by word.
"The show is an hour and 50 minutes long and very accessible, I think. We have had little French children sitting there open-mouthed through the whole thing – they didn't need subtitles to enjoy it."