Sunday, 8 January 2017

Review The Tempest

Shakespeare's enchanted isle weaves its rich and strange spell on Carolin Kopplin in an enticingly musical, cross-gender production.

The Tempest
by William Shakespeare

Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered

This pared-down version of William Shakespeare's final play provides a rather superficial but still engaging production with some outstanding performances.

Actor musicians greet the audience as they seat themselve on three sides of stage, providing an exotic and welcoming atmosphere. Then the drumming ceases abruptly as Prospero (Sarah Malin) makes her entrance for her first monologue.

The sorcereress, Prospero, ruler of this strange island, is the rightful Duchess of Milan, overthrown by her treacherous brother Antonio (Gemma Lawrence) and his accomplice King Alonso of Naples (Stanton Plummer-Cambridge).

When Prospero learns that her enemies are sailing past the island she conjures up a storm to shipwreck them with the help Ariel (Peter Caulfield), one of the spirits on the island who was imprisoned by the witch Sycorax before Prospero freed him to use his services for her own needs.

Directed by Amy Draper, this production proffers a fresh approach combining Shakespeare's language with beguiling dance and music, creating a magical world solely with percussion (excellently performed by Andrew Meredith) and sound effects (music Candida Caldicot) on an otherwise bare stage. Yet this version's short running time leaves very little room for character development which works against the performers.

The cast, save for Sarah Malin and Peter Caulfield, all play a variety of characters. Minor costume changes imply sudden switches into different characters which can, at times, be somewhat distracting but are usually well-executed.

Malin's Prospero rules with a quiet authority, using the graceful Ariel and the crude Caliban at her pleasure. Caulfield's Ariel is a delicate, vulnerable creature. Yet he remains detached and understated, with a sweetly ethereal singing voice, moving swiftly across the stage despite being wrapped in a strait jacket.

Meanwhile Plummer-Cambridge's Caliban is a damaged creature, dethroned like Prospero and therefore bitter and resentful, yet too ignorant to progress. Benjamin Cawley's Ferdinand is so full of life that Miranda, played by Gemma Lawrence, quite understandably falls head over heels in love with him.

The clown scenes involving Trincula (Lawrence again) and Stephano (Cawley) are well devised and the comedy works, particularly the image of the four-legged monster created by Caliban and Trincula.

Another highlight is the wedding dance performed by Prospero, Miranda and Ferdinand and accompanied by a myriad of invisible inhabitants of the island. Nevertheless, the most touching scenes belong to Ariel and Prospero, defining their unique relationship. So, even if this truncated version has its flaws, there is still enough humanity and enchantment to merit an amber/green light. 

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