The Tempest

Wed 9th – Sat 12th May 2012

reviews

Karl Dando

at 09:11 on 10th May 2012

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Flyers promote a 'Tempest' rephrased, which casts Prospero as ‘once ringmaster of the great Circus of Milan’, and though this change is manifest largely in the costuming and occasional bit of background juggling, it is assuredly accomplished. The tempest outside tonight meant that the performance was temporarily relocated to the auditorium – I cannot say how the design plays out in the President’s Garden as intended - but the minimally suggestive set (a few scattered props) and simple but attentive lighting were evocative of the Circus style without overstating it. The subtle skill of the design, more importantly, points to the key decision of this production, which is to play Shakespeare’s drama very much for laughs. The comic tumbles and enthusiastic slapstick is accentuated by the motley shambles of bright rags and primary colours cladding the cast. The Tempest is traditionally termed a comedy, though frequently discussed alongside such works as 'The Winter’s Tale' on account of an acknowledged ambiguity, a potential darkness, supposedly expressive of Shakespeare’s late maturity, that violates genre boundaries. When I told my housemate this production had chosen to be very much a comedy he was quizzical; thankfully I was able to assure him, and you, that the decision pays off.

The success of this show, as accomplished as the costumes and design are, is largely driven by a clutch of charismatic performances, specifically in the more minor roles. It seems appropriate for a show emphasising its comic character that its most watchable performers were content to mess about as drunks and fools. This is not to slight the central characters, but truly the stars of this show are not its stars: they are Sam Plumb’s squeaking Northern housewife, and Laurie Blair as a stumbling Stephano, who manages somehow to act as if he stinks (I mean physically. Like a brewery). Andrew Wynn Owen likewise entertains with a Gonzalo something like a mix between Brian Badonde and the Grasshopper from James and the Giant Peach. Emily Troup is perhaps the most successful performer of the main cast, spritely (sorry..) and excitable, with a puppy-like eagerness, but the glint of a deeper sadness – precisely the deeper sadness missing from Dylan Townley’s Prospero, unfortunately. Even playing it for laughs, I cannot help thinking that Prospero cannot be performed without some suggestion of darkness: this is after all the story of his revenge, and Townley somewhat lacks this. His poised ringmaster with the gameshow grin is though by no means a disappointment, and he certainly has the presence to play the commanding figure, as is especially evidenced in the climactic scene. Mention too is due to Maude Morrison, Zanni Cohen and Lauren Magee who collectively portray the sailors and spirits of the play: the wedding masque in particular is an ethereal heart of beauty to the production, a mesmerising melding of song, speech and movement.

A word is certainly due the music, though I cannot think of many more than ‘yes’. It is restrained when appropriate, and overpowering likewise, it is tonally fit and aesthetically redolent of the style established by the costumes. To have the music almost completely drowning the dialogue in the opening scene is perhaps the most effective element of a, it must be said, not-instantly-impressive start. (In an opinion I will freely admit to having stolen from James Shapiro’s recent Shakespeare documentary series – catch it on iPlayer now folks – I don’t think Prospero should be revealed to be directing the tempest straight away. He’s right, it does undermine the point about the wonder of theatrical magic before it’s established: it’s cynical. But perhaps comedy is cynical?

My mind is wandering, but I take that as a good sign: what higher compliment can we give art than that it fires thought? A middle-aged man with three friends sat in front of me in the auditorium: in the lobby, queue, and interval he had regaled them with his understanding of the themes and et cetera of Shakespeare’s Tempest. No doubt this production will give him a lot more to say.

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Nicholas Morgan

at 09:12 on 10th May 2012

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The new production of 'The Tempest' by the Magdalen Players is very delightful and worth seeing. In this production, one of Shakespeare’s most interesting plays is brought to life in a very enlivening way. The flavour of the production comes from the idea of magic in 'The Tempest', so Prospero becomes a magician in the contemporary sense. The idea of staging 'The Tempest' as a sort of carnival is quite fun and leads to many wonderful and dramatic scenes. Similarly, the costumes were among the most exciting aspects of this play, and they easily captured the essence of this specific context while also conveying quite readily the specific sorts of people we meet in the play.

Sadly, the play had to be performed inside the Magdalen Auditorium, since weather negated the exciting possibility of a performance in the President's Garden. Nevertheless, the minimal set gave a good sense of Prospero's island. The actors filled the space beautifully. Emily Troup as Ariel was particularly memorable for her convincingly androgynous performance and her verve in delivering many of the humorous lines. Probably the best apsect of this production was its emphasis on the music of 'The Tempest'; the sung versions of Ariel's songs were incredibly beautifully, partially due to the strength of Ms Troup's voice. Josh Entecott as Calliban was similarly sympathetic. His performance, initially verging on melodramatic, evolved quickly into a complex portrayal of this extremely complicated figure which moved me deeply. Sam Plumb's Trinculo was very funny, as was Alex Sayers' very quirky and unusual Miranda. Sayers brought a specifc sense of self to Miranda, and one got the sense that she was in touch with the depths of Miranda's mind.

Replete with wonderful music, very good actors and an innovative concept, this production of 'The Tempest' is certainly recommended. I envy those that might see it in its intended location, but with or without the beautiful setting of an historic garden, the ideas and laughs generated by this Tempest are worth a watch.

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