Review: The Tempest
Cast of The Tempest - photo courtesy Nick Rutter
Prospero - Jamie Newall
Ariel - Charlotte Christensen
Ferdinand/Boatswain - Linford Johnson
Miranda/Gonzalo - Joanne Thomson
Caliban/Antonio - Prince Plockey
Trinculo/Alonso - Paul Brendan
Stephano/Sebastian - Reginald Edwards
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world,
That has such people in it!"
A storm at sea - a ship is broken by the waves, and a king and his court are washed up on the shore of a mysterious island.
The desolate isle appears uninhabited but, unseen in the shadows, a powerful magician plots his revenge.
The fate of all the shipwrecked souls now rests in his hands.
Will he give in to his anger, or will his love for his daughter redeem them all?
Inspired by the courtly royal masques of the 17th century, and the designs of Inigo Jones, The Tempest is an evening of pomp and promenade, of magic and illusion.
Shakespeare's magical tale of a usurped Duke, spirits, romance and drunken humour, gets the outdoor treatment in this production from Daniel Winder and Iris Theatre.
Set in the heart of theatre-land in Covent Garden, there can't be a more appropriate venue to stage Shakespeare's still popular play.
Take heed though, because the heatwave we've been sweltering in for the past few days turns speedily to a chilly evening as the sun's power diminishes - woolies and even scarves can be useful accessories to take along to this show just to be comfortable after dark.
The setting, though, is worth every penny of the ticket price and, with St Paul's churchyard in glorious full bloom, there's something definitely magical about the location.
And this promenade production gives us full scope to experience the play right across the church's gardens and inside Inigo Jones's fine church as well.
Moving around and 'following' the action is a little time consuming since the entire audience have to be funnelled through small gaps in the planting and along walkways to reassemble in a new spot.
Though it sounds a little tedious, it's all achieved with sedate, good-humoured anticipation and helpful guides.
If you've read any of my previous reviews of The Tempest, you'll already know that I have definite and strong views about this play - it's certainly not the revenge vehicle it's regularly (and erroneously) claimed to be.
But don't expect too much in the way of a unique take on the play here, for this is a fairly safe and traditional rendition of The Tempest which pulls few punches, even if there are some neat touches from director Daniel Winder, as well as some wry humour from a very able cast along the way.
There seemed to be a number of students around on the night I saw the show, armed with their very own copies of the play to follow every word as the action unfolded.
For those of you without the benefit of the text, the story focuses on Prospero, the ex Duke of Milan who also happens to be an exceptionally potent and powerful wizard of the dark arts.
Being wrapped-up in studying magic, Prospero handed the running of his Dukedom to his brother who, pretty predictably, decided he might as well relieve Prospero of the burden completely and usurped him, casting Prospero and his 3 year old daughter adrift on the high seas in a leaky boat.
Joanne Thomson (Miranda) - photo courtesy Nick Rutter
Managing to fetch-up on a remote island, Prospero and Miranda have now been there for 12 years.
On the island are two other inhabitants - Caliban, a deformed creature who's the son of a witch, and Ariel, a powerful spirit who is controlled by Prospero.
Before the action starts, Caliban has tried to rape Miranda, which forces Prospero to realise that his daughter is in mortal danger should he die, and aims to get her back to civilisation.
So, he conjures up a storm to bring his enemies to the island and manipulates events to enable him and Miranda to escape the idyllic isle and head back to the safety of Milan.
Almost at the start, we find Caliban in chains being dragged around by Prospero - symbolic though that may be, it seems a touch harsh on Prospero who had treated Caliban kindly until he tried to "violate the honour" of his child.
And chains seem wholly unnecessary for a wizard of the likes of Prospero who, Caliban says, can make vassals of gods.
Still, we do get the idea that Caliban is a slave.
Jamie Newall's Prospero shows no sign of any underlying psychological issues that might have caused him to become obsessed with magic and lose his Dukedom.
It's a pretty typical (and capable) 'I'm in charge' kind of characterisation that nonetheless leaves considerable issues unresolved.
Mr Newall is well-served by a talented ensemble, many of whom have to double-up on roles, but that doesn't detract from the overall enjoyment or the undoubted quality of the show.
Charlotte Christensen brings added dimensions to the role of the powerful spirit Ariel with lovely flute playing and ethereal singing.
And once we get inside the church for the masque scene, there's some enchanting company singing there too.
Subtle magic tricks with recorders and fruit inject some novelty into proceedings and there's well-handled comedy from Paul Brendan as Trinculo and Reginald Edwards as Stephano.
At times, the show battles against the extraneous hubbub from London's vibrant Covent Garden - but such are the joys of outdoor theatre.
Incidental interference aside, Filipe Gomes's sound design is eminently suited to its task and there are some splendid costumes from Anna Sances, and Benjamin Polya's lighting proves more than up to setting a mystical mood come the darkness and during the interior scene.
And Daniel Winder certainly exerts deft control over the whole enterprise, even if there's little in the way of unique insight.
But Shakespeare's tale has all the right ingredients to still prove engaging, and the real joy of this production is the uniqueness of the venue, magical enough on its own to more than justify a visit.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Iris Theatre
Our show listing for The Tempest
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