MIRACLE Theatre is touring two shows this summer, a revival of 2015’s hilarious The Magnificent Three and Life’s a Dream, a new adaptation of Calderon’s play La Vida Es Sueño, published 20 years after Shakespeare’s death.
The Spanish play, the first on tour, is a complex allegorical story of fate and nature and nurture and the Miracle version is full of invention, physical comedy and escapology.
A king, given to reading the future in the stars, sees that his son will be a bad lot, so he imprisons him in the mountains. Growing up chained in a cage would turn anyone nasty, and it certainly hasn’t been a barrel of laughs for Sigismund. His only friend has been Clotworthy (a name presumably, and mistakenly, chosen to add humour to the piece).
As in so many of his plays, Calderon has a wronged woman dressed as a man, and here Rosa is searching for the man who jilted her so that she can kill him. She is accompanied by Bugle, an androgynous servant who is the comic centre of the story.
They meet the chained prince, are captured by the palace guards, watch as two warring cousins fight for the throne and all comes right in the end.
The whole thing is played on an ingenious set that looks as though it’s made of rusty iron, and its nooks and crannies are a work of art.
There’s no denying that the Big Issues that the play raises – inevitability, man’s continuing duplicity, the impossibility of fighting destiny – all seem extra-vibrant in these post referendum, Tory/Labour debacle days.
But this is a very lumpy play for the open air style adopted by Miracle, and it’s not helped by uneven performances from a company made up of Ben Kernow, Catherine Lake and Hannah Stephens (all continuing into the rightly named The Magnificent Three from August), with Richard Hainsworth, Steve Jacobs and Tom Adams.
Calderon’s play is regarded as the jewel in the crown of Spain’s golden age of theatre, but it might be better served in a more conventional setting, without the need to inject “funny” moments to satisfy the (what was at Sandford Orcas a very chilly) audience. There is enough broad comedy in the originals, as Laurence Boswell has brilliantly demonstrated at Bath’s Ustinov.
Life’s a Dream is clever, colourful, inventive and thought provoking, but it has the distinct aura of a work in progress.