The Tempest

Tue 6th – Sat 10th May 2014

reviews

Elizabeth Crowdy

at 03:53 on 7th May 2014

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Being a student of Shakespeare, seeing The Tempest at the ADC was something of a luxury, and as the audience filled up I was somewhat anxious that this student production would fall short of expectations. Thankfully, it far exceeded them.

The opening scene created a visual enchantment perfectly suited to this play centred around magic and supernatural control. A ship dominated the stage, which initially seemed excessive, but proved to be a masterpiece of design, as it provided different levels for the actors to work on throughout the show. The lighting was especially effective in this first scene, as the torches shone into the audience gave a dramatic opening. The rest of the stage design was also effective. The light, sand-coloured dust that covered the stage gave an accurate impression of an island as well as giving characters clad in strategically dark coloured clothing an opportunity to fiercely (and ineffectively) dust themselves off at various points.

Mark Milligan’s Ariel was a high point for me throughout the production: his delicate movements evoked an effective image of the otherworldly, whilst maintaining a comic, overworked character which was noted by the audience before he even started to speak, due to his ill-fitting pin striped suit. Furthermore, the addition of oversized angel wings in the first half gave the perfect mix of serious and ridiculous to the much summoned character when he spoke to the mortals on Prospero’s island. The music accompanying Ariel worked well: the Schoenberg style gave an appropriately ethereal atmosphere to his scenes (emphasised by the diaphanous ensemble), and reinforced the surreal in the production.

Comedy was a welcome aspect to this production of The Tempest. Sam Grabiner’s Ferdinand was suitably simpleminded, only focused on Miranda in a very obvious, teenage romance way. This could easily have become too much, yet their naïve attempts at romance and physical interaction provided a respite from the often heavy-going language of Shakespeare. Grabiner’s over-careful manner of speaking paired with an extreme style of movement also added a pleasantly exaggerated air to his scenes, contrasting with Joey Akubeze’s mature and calculating Prospero. The drunk interactions of Stephano and Trinculo (Rebecca Hare and Laura Inge) with Caliban (Guy Clark) were also extremely amusing.

I found it an interesting choice of the director to change Gonzalo, Antonia, Trinculo and Stephano into female characters. The play lacks female roles as a whole, which may have been a deliberate choice by Shakespeare. However, I felt that this decision updated the play, and brought a more interesting dynamic to the stage.

In terms of connection with the audience, Akubeze rounded the play off extremely well. The closing soliloquy delivered cross-legged and at the edge of the stage engaged the full ADC audience, and broke down any previous detachment the audience may have felt. His speech flowed in a more measured way at this point in the play, which further slowed the pace of the play towards the conclusion, a pleasant contrast to the slightly rushed delivery from all characters in the opening scenes.

This play was above all a visual delight, with the set, lighting and characters all interacting in an aesthetically wonderful way. Aside from the well dispatched narrative, it was a glorious spectacle, and brought magic, naïve love and bewildered drunkards to the ADC in a most enjoyable fashion.

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Christy Edwall

at 08:38 on 7th May 2014

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It occurred to me half-way through the play that The Tempest is very difficult to put on. It opens with a shipwreck; magic-making music accompanies the action like a Greek chorus; there is a masque, and a harpy. It seems one would do well to pick an extreme: by mounting a full-scale, technologically dense production with a lot of gadgets, or by scaling it back and doing the play barebones. Emma Wilkinson’s production has chosen neither, but bravely attempts the middle path.

In some instances this succeeds. The stage set – a large, wrecked fully-rigged ship, deck and mast intact – is effective. Occasionally lit from within by a green light, the ship is a fitting backdrop for Prospero’s island, and an effective second stage with which to elevate actors. The ensemble of offstage musicians provide a suitably weird accompaniment of discord and shifting tonalities. Personally, I would have dispersed with the masques, which are clumsy even at the best of times; and while the transformation of Ariel (Mark Milligan) into the harpy is as sudden as a thunderclap, it becomes less effective the longer the scene continues.

The actors are, for the most part, good at Shakespeare. Esme Mahoney, who plays a feminised Antonio, Prospero’s usurping brother, seems to have been born speaking verse. Trinculo (Laura Inge) and Stephano (Rebecca Hare) were completely at ease as the shanty-singing, sack-swiggers, and together with Guy Clark’s convincingly malicious and miserable Caliban, are the strongest ensemble in the play. Kate Reid’s Miranda was refreshingly booted, hearty and enthusiastic rather than gushing. Sam Grabiner stole the show by playing Ferdinand as the handsome numskull he is, all swagger, idiocy, and empty lines. Together, the lovers were a pleasure rather than a trepanning.

Ariel appears, bafflingly, in a three-piece suit. He enunciates wonderfully. He does his songs in heavy-handed sprechgesang, rather than trying to seduce his hearers lyrically. He’d rather, in his frustration at being Prospero’s factotum, bash them over the head with it. His exit, taken without glee but with a flat look over the shoulder, struck some audience members as surly. But it’s a believable gesture for Ariel, but perhaps not in tune with his performance throughout the play.

Joey Akubeze as Prospero moves in and out of the sort of power and authority which Prospero requires in order to be a believable emperor of the island. While he is tall, Akubeze doesn’t make use of his height or the strength of his voice. When he does, it is teased out of him by Ariel or Caliban. Towards the end of the fifth act, Prospero seemed to be largely bewildered than resigned, and gave his epilogue mournfully, without the humour the lines – a joke asking for applause – require.

The Tempest features strong performances which refresh traditional interpretations with good humour and mischief, but by missing the play’s grounding in Prospero’s authoritarian charisma, the Tempest risks floundering.

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