At the Edinburgh Fringe, whimsy is pandemic. You can barely move without stumbling upon a piece of clowning, while you might spend the whole of August believing that ukuleles and accordions – with the occasional guitar thrown in for good measure – were the only instruments available in the whole city. Twee is as ubiquitous as flyerers and leaden skies.
So withWings’ clowning, cute and – yes – whimsical take on The Tempest should raise a sigh of weary recognition. Le Coq-inspired physical theatre: check. Sweetly homespun props: check. Sugary and slightly quirky romance, vaguely hipster aesthetic, a (candy pink) ukulele – check, check, check. Yet somehow, If Room Enough feels winningly ingenious, fresh even. Through a mixture of archness, energy and persuasive charm, it pulls its audience along with it headfirst.
This is very clearly The Tempest, but Shakespeare’s text has been mostly jettisoned in favour of a lively, playful, visually inventive retelling of its plot. The main focus falls on Miranda and Ferdinand, whose whirlwind courtship has never been sweeter, and on the irrepressible, mischief-making figure of Tom Coxon’s animated Ariel. Christian Eccles-Cannon’s Prospero, meanwhile, watches over it all in the manner of an aloof compere, leading withWings’ original soundtrack of charming and sometimes joyously raucous music.
With a simple ingenuity and physical verve that invite comparisons with other young companies like Idle Motion and Rhum and Clay, withWings spin image after image from Shakespeare’s narrative. The central focus is Prospero’s blue-and-white striped beach hut, a seemingly basic piece of set that is turned and manipulated every which way, constantly revealing new entrances and concealed windows. Around it, meanwhile, visual tricks come thick and fast. Ariel’s arm startlingly bursts out from a washing machine; bodies swell and fall in a storm created from limbs; scenes are suddenly turned – quite literally – on their head. Laugh tumbles after gasp as the company continue to pull out surprise upon surprise.
Certain elements of Shakespeare’s play are unexpectedly illuminated by this resourceful reimagining. The giddy rendering of the relationship between Miranda and Ferdinand, though at times threatening to become tooth-rottingly saccharine, captures something of the ridiculous suddenness with which the Bard’s characters fall in love. Performers Chloe Orenigan and Tom Figgins capture all the mingled bliss and awkwardness of youthful infatuation, as their smitten lovers pass scrawled messages and gaze nervously into one another’s eyes. In one particularly gorgeous and funny sequence, the couple share a frenzied picnic, their appetite for one another almost indistinguishable from the hunger they sate with strawberries and squirty cream.
Elsewhere, however, it can feel as though The Tempest is simply an attractive vehicle for withWings’ enchanting aesthetic. If Room Enough certainly conjures the magic of the “isle full of voices”, but its spells are homemade rather than ethereal. By the end, though, any such quibbles begin to feel irrelevant. Much like Miranda and Ferdinand’s helpless, all-consuming romance, it’s hard not to fall a little bit in love with this slice of sheer charm.