Paul Johnson | 03 Jun 2014 14:27pm
Any production of ‘The Tempest’ excites me. Why? Because it is a play I studied at school and so has become hallowed in my mind as being from a bygone era of happy memories. Clearly we all know that childhood does not always consist of the halcyon days we would like to imagine just as all productions of ‘The Tempest’ do not always live up to our expectations; the Edward Alderton Theatre’s production, directed by Mark Campbell, has much to recommend it, despite one or two reservations on my part. A quick flick through of the first few pages of the text tells you that the main character in the play, Prospero, is a troubled soul concerned about his daughter’s future and the possibility of revenge on those who did him ill twelve years earlier. Filled with magic and dreams this was Shakespeare’s final play and the part of Prospero is overshadowed with the thought that just as he decides to ‘break my staff’ and ‘abjure’ his ‘rough magic’, Shakespeare too was putting down his quill and retiring to Stratford.
The poignancy of the character of Prospero was something that Richard Self captured extremely effectively. Shakespeare’s language rolled fluently and the speeches were balanced in their following of the natural rhythm of the words. He commanded the stage, as well as the elements, commendably in the opening scene which was cleverly pre-recorded allowing us to glimpse Prospero intermittently casting his spells through the use of strobe lighting. Perhaps a little more rage would have made the characterisation slightly more realistic; this Prospero appeared more beneficent and perhaps a little world weary far too early, making his stirring up of ‘mutinous winds’ and ‘dread rattling storms’ slightly less believable.
Ciara O’Hare and Darren Cullen as Miranda and Ferdinand, played their part as lovestruck teenagers. On a personal level I prefer a slightly more feisty pair of lovers, however, this does not detract from competent performances from both of these actors. Miranda had an unassuming naivety about her performance and her facial expression was excellent, particularly on first seeing the inhabitants of this ‘brave new world’, whilst Ferdinand although lacking in great energy did seem genuinely distressed at the loss of his father and the scene where they appear with a chess set had a playful charm about it.
An interesting twist, Caliban was played by a woman, Maureen Hardwen who successfully incorporated a combination of dry humour, anger and sensitivity. Although she turned in a compelling performance and I completely believed both her bitterness at the loss of the island and her contempt for the ‘drunkard’ and the ‘dull fool’ she had followed, a female Caliban does not work for me…perhaps the line about ‘I had peopled else this isle with Calibans’ was asking me to take an act of suspension of disbelief one step too far.
A much pared down script made this play a scant two hours long, however, the scenes with the noblemen could perhaps have benefitted from slightly less cutting. The relationship between Antonio and Sebastian is seminal to the play, their closeness established from the interplay between them following on from the storm and then in subsequent scenes helps to make the suggested fratricide more understandable. I felt that the relationship between them was never given an opportunity to flourish so that the sudden proposal to kill the king by Antonio came quite unexpectedly. For all four of these actors they needed to pick up their cues more quickly and add some pace to the scenes. Alonso particularly could have done with a great deal more light and shade in his speeches which were delivered in rather a monotone. Of the four Kevin Coward as Antonio seemed to have the best delivery and I felt that I would have liked to see more of him as a performer as too Ken Swan, who came in at the end with a strong presentation of the bosun.
As ever Trinculo and Stephano brought humour and great entertainment with each appearance, although I wonder why every recent performance I have seen of ‘The Tempest’ has had Trinculo with some strong regional accent? Is it perhaps to make Ariel’s imitation of his voice easier? As ever the two headed four legged gaberdined mooncalf was a brilliant crowd pleaser and was skilfully executed. Steve Padgham in full jesters outfit and the slightly effete Matthew Friett with his homemade bottle and umbrella are to be complemented on their double act and who ever thought up the inspired running gag on Stephano’s name should have been credited in the programme .. genius!
Finally to Ariel, the magical spirit who flits between scenes ensuring that her master’s wishes are fulfilled so that she can gain her freedom. Louise Ody was perhaps not the obvious choice for this ‘airy spirit’ and certainly some of her gestures and poses appeared slightly awkward. I would have also liked to have seen more engagement with the action in the scenes when she was sitting on stage as an observer. Music is an integral part of this production and Ariel’s songs are musical interventions which are key to the text. Perhaps including more music rather than the rather bland recitation of some of the extremely poetic language would have been advantageous. In a production that clearly had no qualms about cutting lines this would have seemed an ideal option, as would the line where Prospero asks Ariel to ‘fetch me my hat and rapier’. Why leave in the line if Ariel is not going to fetch the said objects? On a more positive note the interplay between Ariel and Prospero had some beautiful touches, particularly the scene where he threatens to ‘rend an oak and peg thee in his knotty entrails’. Her growing subservience and acceptance of his power were evident in her cowering posture and we felt genuine sympathy for this spirit who had been released from one tyrannical master’s prison only to be trapped in servitude to another.
I prefer costume to have some consistency. Floating green fairy like Ariel’s are all well and good, but please don’t have a safety pin holding the outfit together. Elizabethan style shirts and doublets alongside any old black trousers and machine made modern shoes are just too anachronistic for my liking. Maybe I am just too pernickety, but as anyone who has read my reviews before will know shoes are one of my big bugbears and they are often one of the first things I notice when an actor walks on stage.
Mark Campbell’s inventive direction was aided by the simplicity of the set, giving ample opportunity for his actors to use the space to its best advantage. Planks representing trees and the lovely contours of the semi-circular hardboard flats created the feeling of being trapped within this magical island. Lighting helped to add a little mystery to the scene although occasionally perhaps a little too dark, making the moments when brighter lighting was used seem quite brash in contrast. There were some excellent effects such as creating the dogs with hand shadows and the masque through flickering light playing across the faces of the onlookers, as well as some good use of leaf shaped gobos.
The setting worked well, and it was atmospheric to enter an auditorium already shrouded in smoke, despite one overheard comment from an audience member who wondered if they had been testing the smoke machine or whether it was intentional … I never doubted for one minute that it was not intentional! Perhaps you should take time out and see for yourself as the show runs until June 7th.
- : admin
- : 02/06/2014