Review: The Tempest
Image: Bilimankhwe Arts
Translations by Chisomo 'Nyamalikiti Nthiwatiwa' Mdalla
Prospero - Christopher Brand
Miranda - Cassandra Hercules
Ariel - Robert Magasa and Joshua Bhima
Caliban - Stanley Mambo
Ferdinand - Reice Weathers
Trinculo - Victoria Jeffrey
Stephano - Benedict Martin
This powerful, passionate and magical production features stunning contemporary African choreography from Shyne Phiri, with an original soundtrack which samples traditional Malawian music.
With live music and full of humour and movement, the show is fast paced, urban and exciting.
By bringing together artists from Africa and Europe, the company uses the best from both continents to both entertain and move audiences.
The Tempest is presented in collaboration with Damon Albarn's Africa Express.
Thought to be the last play that Shakespeare wrote alone and penned around 1611, The Tempest is the story of how a man, Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, plans to get his daughter back to civilisation after spending 12 years on a lonely island with only spirits and a bitter native for company.
In the hands of Bilimankhwe Arts and director Kate Stafford, this production is a pared-down version of Shakespeare's original.
Gone are the King of Naples, Prospero's usurping brother and the courtiers.
And the focus of the play is colonialism which emanates from Caliban's line:
"This island's mine from Sycorax my mother, which thou take'st from me"
For purists, the character omissions might be a bit of creative magic taken a touch too far.
However, there's more than enough in other areas of this remarkable and hugely enjoyable production to make-up for the missing mandarins.
In fact, we gain an additional character - or to put it another way, the powerful spirit Ariel gets split into two in a unique and inspired decision to have two actors - Robert Magasa and Joshua Bhima - double-up in that role.
These two brilliantly realised characters not only provide invigorating dance sequences (beautifully choreographed by Shyne Phiri) but inject a memorable mischievousness into their roles - for example, in the scene where Ferdinand has to haul heavy rocks from one place to another, the Ariels toss back the stones to their starting point with casual ease and wicked glee.
But the innovations don't stop there.
Several members of the cast are from Malawi and speak some of the dialogue in their own soothingly mellow language which makes even some of Caliban's earthy lines sound almost charming (note: surtitles are provided on a screen above the stage for translation purposes).
And the show features some of the most hauntingly played and delicately written music (from Ben Mankhamba and Frederick Rich) that I've ever heard in a version of this play.
Now I always imagine Prospero as a small, rather weak, bookish kind of man who wouldn't know one end of a rapier from the other - for this is no warrior or raging warlord, at least in my book.
So, Christopher Brand's tall and imposing version of the character is almost exactly the opposite of my imaginings, with more of the bearing of an Achilles.
But his delivery is spot on and he impresses immensely as the orchestrator of events, and his commanding stature does work well set against that of his character's teenage daughter, Miranda, played by a petite Cassandra Hercules.
Apart from the hugely appealing and humorous Ariels, who come within a centimetre of stealing the show, my vote for the real stars here has to go to the pair of young lovers - Ms Hercules's bubbly Miranda and Reice Weathers' vigorously affable and outgoing Ferdinand.
These two capture perfectly the fizzing, almost uncontrollable excitement of first love in the most captivating yet totally believable and unsoppy way - they are, quite simply, a joy to watch - playful, charmingly idealistic, touchingly naive, untainted by the cruelties and disappointments of life and full of youthful zest.
And that's a testament to Kate Stafford's superb direction as much as a compliment to the actors, for raw talent, as evidenced here in abundance, is not sufficient on its own to make a pairing like this work so marvellously.
Though I'm not entirely in agreement with some of the tenets which lie behind this version of Shakespeare's last play, that doesn't really matter a jot.
Because this is an inventively refreshing production that deftly and almost defiantly charms its way into our hearts providing one of the most novel - and most captivating - versions of the play that I've seen in a long while.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Greenwich Theatre
Our show listing for The Tempest
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