Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Monday 6thFebruary 2023
There is a welcome drive in contemporary theatre for sustainability and being green. The RSC is at the forefront: they’ve been recycling the same 37 plays for decades! Seriously, anything that reduces or offsets an organisation’s carbon footprint can only be for the good, can’t it? Can this example of sustainable theatre sustain my interest?
People who are shipwrecked on desert islands know all about repurposing and upcycling in order to provide shelter for themselves, and so it is no surprise to see that Tom Piper’s set follows suit. What does surprise me is that after many years of being marooned, Prospero’s place isn’t a little bit tidier? Perhaps she just likes a junkyard aesthetic. I say ‘she’ because this production boasts a female Prospero, in the form of Alex Kingston; the parental qualities of the character as good a fit for a mother as the more-traditional father. What jars at first is the use of ‘male’ forms of address. This Prospero is still a Prince and a Duke and a master – which shows how firmly rooted gender is in our use of language.
In the central role, Kingston storms it, as her plots involve everyone else on her island. There is power and tenderness in her portrayal, her powers of sorcery (which would have got any woman burned at the stake back in the day) as convincing as her maternal affections. She is supported by Jessica Rhodes’s lively Miranda and Heledd Gwynn’s enthusiastic Ariel.
Director Elizabeth Freestone highlights the comedic elements of the script and utilises the physicality of the cast to create the effects of the magic. This also adds comedy (Joseph Payne’s Ferdinand, rolling around, for example) and also an atmosphere where potentially anything could happen. A particularly effective moment is the arrival of Ariel and the Harpies in front of a giant gilt-framed mirror. At other points, the impact is not as well focussed, making for a patchy overall impression.
Ishia Bennison brings warmth and humour as the garrulous, cross-gendered Gonzalo, while Peter De Jersey adds heartfelt grief as the King of Naples sorrows for his lost son. Both, separately and as part of the ensemble, are adept at the physical aspects of the performance: the opening shipwreck is stylishly and effectively depicted.
Tommy Sim’aan’s Caliban is all human and no creature, which, I suppose, highlights the racism and colonialism that have reduced him to a slave on his native island. I just prefer more of a touch of the ‘other’ to the character. Simon Startin’s Stephano and Cath Whitefield’s Trinculo make an enjoyably drunken double act, but it is Kingston’s Prospero that dominates the action and our engagement. Her delivery of ‘Our revels now are ended…’ is powerfully emotive and her heartbreak at releasing Ariel is quietly devastating. There is never any sense that Prospero and Miranda might be in jeopardy; Kingston is in control of everything.
Much value is added to the production by the original music and sound design, courtesy of Adrienne Quartly, and there is a lot to enjoy in this busy production. On reflection though, I would ditch the mirror, and keep the stage almost if not entirely bare. The physicality of the cast is more than enough to convey what needs to be conveyed. Recycled sets don’t have to be rubbish.
☆ ☆ ☆ and a half!
Staff meeting: Alex Kingston as Prospero (Photo: Ikin Yum)
Leave a comment | tags: Adrienne Quartly, Alex Kingston, Cath Whitefield, Elizabeth Freestone, Heledd Gwynn, Ishia Bennison, Jessica Rhodes, Joseph Payne, Peter de Jersey, review, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, RSC, Simon Startin, The Tempest, Tom Piper, Tommy Sim'aan, William Shakespeare | posted in play, Review, Shakespeare
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 19th June, 2018
It’s not the first time The Tempest has been set in outer space. The film, Forbidden Planet, translated the action – and the text – to a sci-fi setting; then a stage show, one of the first jukebox musicals, Return To The Forbidden Planet used Shakespearean lines in tandem with 1960s songs. Now, Oddsocks Productions return to the play with sci-fi in mind, along with their trademark silliness and pop music… and it all makes for an evening of bonkers entertainment.
The Shakespeare is peppered with sci-fi references, with Star Trek featuring heavily, and Star Wars a close second. Prospero is a kind of Old Ben Kenobi figure, with daughter Miranda’s hair curled in Princess Leia-like buns. An engineer called Scottie even puts in an appearance. The stroke of genius is having Trinculo, usually a jester, portrayed as a droid – Top marks to Gavin Harrison for his Anthony Daniels/C3PO impersonation! Harrison also appears as the villainous Antonio, a baddie in search of a panto; although the cuts to the script mean he doesn’t get up to much, Harrison poses and postures beautifully, and it’s a pleasure to boo him.
Another stalwart returning for more madness is Dominic Gee Burch. His Caliban, a mutant fish-man, as if the Creature from the Black Lagoon got too close to a nuclear reactor, is a gift for a gifted physical comedian. New to the company, Amy Roberts makes a snooty ‘Alonza’, while her drunken ‘Stephanie’ is straight out of Starfleet Academy – the Geordie Shore campus. Making her Oddsocks debut as a feisty, petulant Miranda, Alice Merivale is wildly enjoyable. Her scenes with Ferdinand are especially good – mainly because it’s a moment when Shakespeare is allowed to come to the fore. As Ferdinand and also an alien Ariel, Matt Penson speaks the verse beautifully, while maintaining the sense of anarchic fun that characterises an Oddsocks performance.
Director/genius Andy Barrow plays Prospero, like a bald Gandalf wafting his magic staff about, and he’s as gloriously silly as you’d expect, yet when it comes to the big speeches, Prospero’s famous lines (We are such stuff as dreams are made on…) he plays it straight, as though establishing his credentials. Not that he needs to, of course, but he wisely reins in the slapstick and the silliness and the mucking around and lets the power of Shakespeare’s words work its magic. Speaking of magic, the special effects are all gloriously low-tech, with some simple conjuring tricks adding to the atmosphere.
There are a couple of misfires but overall, it’s more hit than miss, and you’re never waiting long for the next thing to laugh at. I feel more could be made of the Caliban and Trinculo under a blanket scene, for example, but then there are moments of sheer brilliance: I don’t want to spoil anything, but Ridley Scott’s Alien has a lot to answer for.
If you haven’t seen The Tempest before, you might not find this version all that enlightening. If you haven’t (and if you have!) seen Oddsocks before, you’re in for a wild ride and a rocking good time.
Brave new worlds! Prospero (Andy Barrow) and Miranda (Alice Merivale)
Leave a comment | tags: Alice Merivale, Amy Roberts, Andy Barrow, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Dominic Gee-Burch, Gavin Harrison, Matt Penson, Oddsocks, review, The Tempest, William Shakespeare | posted in Review, Theatre Review
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 30th November, 2016
The play, often regarded as Shakespeare’s swansong, is brought to vibrant life in this new production from artistic director Gregory Doran. Using pioneering technology (courtesy of Intel), the magical aspects of Prospero’s isle are presented in ground-breaking ways with special effects we are more accustomed to seeing in your average cinematic blockbuster. Most notable is the spirit Ariel (Mark Quartley) projected above us with motion-capture animation while the actor performs upstage. There is a risk that the action is going to be overwhelmed by the marvellous effects but Doran wisely allows Ariel to appear to us live not long after this grandest of entrances. Other scenes use a combination of acting and special effects to create the magical moments of the story – I think the balance is struck; the latter enhances the former. Of course, all the effects in the world aren’t going to make a production if the acting isn’t there – and it is.
Simon Russell Beale is a superb Prospero, managing to be powerful when casting his spells and vulnerable and careworn when dealing with his increasingly independent daughter, Miranda (Jenny Rainsford, blending teenage assertion with childlike dependency). Joe Dixon’s misshapen Caliban is both repulsive and sympathetic – his scenes with the drunkards Trinculo (a very funny Simon Trinder) and Stephano (the mighty Tony Jayawardena, who can do no wrong) are hilarious. I also like Joseph Mydell’s wise old Gonzalo, the bravado of Tom Turner’s Sebastian and Oscar Pearce’s scheming, Machiavellian Antonio. Daniel Easton’s bit of an upper-class twit of a Ferdinand matures nicely into a worthy suitor for Miranda, but for me the most effective relationship is that between master and slave, the magician Prospero and the sprite Ariel. Mark Quartley is excellent as the unworldly creature, moving like a dancer-gymnast-acrobat – his face and voice are no less expressive. “Do you love me, Master?” he asks, with poignant innocence, and Russell Beale’s reply, wrenched from the bottom of his heart, “Deeply” is wrought with pain. It is Ariel who humanises Prospero, the servant teaching the master that revenge is not the way to go, thereby changing the outcome of the story. Magnificent stuff.
Reconciliation is the order of the day and forgiveness and resignation, for a rather moving final scene. Along the way, we have seen and heard wonders, including Paul Englishby’s ethereal music and the beautiful singing of sopranos Juno (Jennifer Wooton), Iris (Elly Condron), and Ceres (Samantha Hay). This is the RSC’s best seasonal, family show for years and it’s practically sold out but perhaps, if you’re lucky and able to perform a little magic, you might be able to snaffle up the odd return ticket. Believe me, it’s well worth the effort.
Spirited performance: Mark Quartley as Ariel and Simon Russell Beale as Prospero (Photo: Topher McGrillis)
Leave a comment | tags: Daniel Easton, Elly Condron, Gregory Doran, Intel, Jennifer Wooton, Jennt Rainsford, Joe Dixon, Joseph Mydell, Mark Quartley, Oscar Pearce, Paul Englishby, review, RSC, Samantha Hay, Simon Trinder, Stratford upon Avon, The Tempest, Tom Turner, Tony Jayawardena, William Shakespeare | posted in Theatre Review
A E Harris Building, Birmingham, Friday 19th July, 2013
An old man in a nursing home reminisces about the past. He is visited by his daughter but is paranoid that members of staff are out to get him and has dreams, tortured collages of memories. He even has an imaginary friend with whom he mocks other inmates.
What is remarkable about Hotel Teatro’s telling of this tale is that in this piece, characters only speak lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Director Daniel Tyler has dismantled the original play and cut-and-pasted dialogue and phrases to fit this new narrative. For the most part, it works very well but I found myself forever pulled out of my engagement with the action as I worked out which character originally said which line and in what context.
The company of five actors are a skilled bunch, some of them more at ease with the language than others. Corey Campbell is excellent as the Carer, keeping a naturalistic tone as he tends to old Prospero, and adopting a more dramatic attitude when he comes over all Caliban-like in the old man’s paranoid fantasies. Alice Coles is also very strong as dutiful daughter Miranda, visiting her old dad. She reminds me of a young Jane Asher. She doubles up as her own mother in a couple of memory sequences: we see how Prospero met and married his wife and also, later on, how he lost her. It’s like the first ten minutes of Disney’s Up.
The ‘real-life’ scenes are interspersed with some effective movement sequences, directed by Christopher Worrell, with Prospero conjuring up these images by twisting his blanket or brandishing his staff (well, a walking stick!). Worrell also appears as imaginary friend Ariel, a graceful, other-worldly presence. James MacNaughton offers solid support as a ‘Patient’ and also a Trinculo-like figure, a rowdy cook who slips Prospero swigs from his hip flask every now and then. Andy Brownlie’s Prospero is a likeable old soul – reminiscing over a photograph album, he takes out a picture of his late wife, “How sharp the sting of this remembrance is!” he says, in one of the piece’s simpler and more touching moments.
Ultimately, the play comes across as more clever than it is powerful. The ensemble works very well with very little in the way of staging. Excellent sound design from John Roddy creates the atmosphere of the naturalistic scenes as well as the stylised sequences, proving the low-budget, plastic chair theatre can be richer in ideas and execution than shows privileged to have bigger budgets.
I would have liked to see more extremes in old Prospero: his anger, his confusion, his sentimentality, all need sharper contrasts – the unpredictability of the moods of the elderly can be alarming and heartbreaking, and perhaps I would have been drawn deeper into his plight and away from my own compulsion to identify the provenance of every line they said.
Leave a comment | tags: A E Harris Building, Alice Coles, Andy Brownlie, Christopher Worrell, Corey Campbell, Daniel Tyler, Hotel Teatro, James MacNaughton, John Roddy, review, Tempestory, The Tempest, William Shakespeare | posted in Theatre Review
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Tuesday 11th September, 2012
One of the things I’ve always liked about The Tempest is that it seems to start in the middle of the story. The titular storm that brings a particular group of people to a particular island is the turning point in their fate, as the wronged and usurped Prospero exerts his influence on the natural world. This means the opening scenes are heavy with back-story, but it’s all about setting things up before the final confrontation and moment of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Like the bear in The Winter’s Tale, how the opening scene will be staged is always eagerly anticipated. David Farr’s production, part of the RSC’s ‘shipwreck trilogy’ uses the same diagonal planks, the decking of a ship, to fill the performance space (and indeed the same cast) as Twelfth Night and the Comedy of Errors. Prospero’s isle is rather drab and monochromatic. His ‘cell’ is a Perspex box and it is in here that the tempest happens. Sitting at her schooldesk, Miranda (Emily Taafe) listens with growing fascination to the voices of the passengers and crew while behind her, in the Perspex box of her imagination, we see the scene played out within those cramped confines. It’s a neat idea but hardly spectacular.
The Perspex box has things in common with the TARDIS – it can transport characters – and the holodeck on the USS Enterprise – it can show things – but I couldn’t help thinking of Philip Schofield’s game show. Can you beat The Cube?
Prospero (Jonathan Slinger) stalks around in a stained suit and buttoned-up shirt. And so does his spirit slave Ariel (Sandy Grierson in a hypnotic performance) – a kind of Mini Me, who happens to be taller than the original. I liked this identification of slave and master and of course, off comes the jacket at the end when Ariel is awarded his freedom at last. Trouble is, I could neither warm to this Prospero nor marvel at his powers. There is something about Slinger’s characterisation that prevents this. Technically he is an excellent actor but I just wasn’t getting it.
Caliban (Amer Hlehel) wears a suit that is little more than a collection of tatters. A dust cloud arises whenever he moves and he has an enjoyable manner of cursing and swearing. His supposed ‘misshapenness’ is nothing other than his different ethnicity, bringing to the fore the play’s themes of imperialism and colonialism. Caliban is quite right to be aggrieved, in modern eyes, but perhaps to the Jacobean viewer, he would come across as the ungrateful savage. Why is his usurpation acceptable but not Prospero’s? (I’m loving the chance to say ‘usurpation’ and I may well do so again before this review is finished).
Solomon Israel’s Ferdinand brings the first note of physical humour to the play. His arrival is a breath of fresh air and his interactions with Taafe’s Miranda are delightful. When he is enchained by Prospero, the slavery theme is starkly with us – I don’t think this was an unconscious side effect of the ‘colour-blind’ approach to casting.
The always-enjoyable Felix Hayes gives an endearingly dim Trinculo and Bruce Mackinnon’s Stephano gives a drunken satire of the imperialist. Their scenes with Hlehel’s Caliban liven up this production.
The second half has more oomph. At last we see Prospero calling up the special effects department to do his bidding. We get flashes and bangs and dry ice and bubbles. The isle has become a magical place at last. As Prospero realises that forgiveness is his best option, he becomes less the stern plantation owner and nasty schoolteacher and more the sentimental father and big-hearted brother, accessing all parts of his humanity and choosing tbe better ones. Slinger wins you over by the end.
I liked Nicholas Day’s dignified Gonzalo but I don’t see why Sebastian (Kirsty Bushell) was made a female character but referred to as male most of the time. Her Sebastian is sardonic and cool, a counterpoint to the blustering of the rest of the party.
There are some great touches: I liked Caliban carrying firewood like Christ bearing the cross, and the Caravaggioesque freezes when Sebastian and Antonio are about to carry out their violent usurpation (there you go) of Alonso.
Perhaps it’s my fault for wanting more enchantment but, like drying out after a downpour, I came to like this production a lot by the end and found it ultimately moving.
Leave a comment | tags: Amer Hlehel, Bruce Mackinnon, Caliban, David Farr, Emily Taafe, Felix Hayes, Jonathan Slinger, Kirsty Bushell, Miranda, Nicholas Day, Prospero, review, RSC, Sandy Grierson, shipwreck trilogy, Solomon Israel, The Tempest, William Shakespeare | posted in Theatre Review