Review: Shakespeare Company’s The Tempest
Clémence Smith, Editor-in-Chief, reviews Exeter University Shakespeare Company’s production of The Tempest.
Shakespeare Company’s The Tempest breathes new life into the well-loved play, experimenting with vibrant colours and lively acting: the cast’s effervescent performance undoubtedly keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.
The play, set on an island covered in discarded bottles and cans, subverted the audience’s expectations that Prospero’s island would provide an idyllic haven. Caliban’s begrudging litter-picking was a truly original way of highlighting his subservience to Prospero and Miranda, tacitly underscoring the degradation of nature that was presumably triggered by their arrival.
Prospero, played by Oisin Maguire, and Ariel, played by Rosie Broom, delivered stand-out renditions of their characters. Their stage chemistry was palpable, captivating the audience with their ability to toy with the other characters’ perception of reality. In the penultimate scene, the hug they shared after Prospero sets Ariel free was particularly heart-warming, even though it was also quite bittersweet. Broom truly made the stage her own – her nimble and light-footed movements combined with decisive enunciation meant that Ariel had the other characters, as well as the audience, wrapped around her little finger.
Miranda, played by Alex Green, provided some more light-hearted moments as Green perfectly balanced physical comedy, skipping and twirling around the stage, with more subtle expressions which betrayed Miranda’s naivety. His giggling and use of a high-pitched voice, however, made the character verge on caricature and felt, at times, infantilising. The physical comedy that resulted from the gender-swapped casting would have sufficed, in my opinion. When one refers back to the original play, Miranda’s character seems much less ditzy in her acerbic critique of what she perceives to be Caliban’s – this part of her character undoubtedly makes her more than an innocent bystander of Caliban’s ostracisation, but seemed to have been unfortunately overlooked by the production’s director.
The other characters from Milan – nicknamed “the lads” – exhibited, as their nickname suggests, rowdy behaviour throughout the play. Their costumes, which consisted of holiday attire, shorts, Hawaiian shirts, and sunglasses, albeit delightfully gaudy, made it difficult in the first couple of scenes to distinguish between the nobility and the sailors.
Unfortunately, the Stephano, Caliban, and Trinculo side plot was where the play seemed to stumble. Jed Tarrant’s portrayal of Stephano, a drunken butler, was perhaps too over-the-top, which sometime made scenes hard to follow. Stephano and Trinculo’s dynamic, I believe, would have been more successful if they had been a dumb-and-dumber duo. This would also have provided more variety, considering that the rest of “the lads” were already quite riotous in the other scenes. Furthermore, although the masque scene was entertaining and a refreshing change of pace, it might have been a little shorter. Nonetheless, the choreography was spot-on and skillfully executed.
The visual effects throughout the play were mesmerising: rather than the dark and brooding atmosphere one might expect from Prospero’s schemings, the fluorescent set felt like a breath of fresh air. The play’s production was excellent throughout, as lighting cues helped add depth to Prospero’s occult powers. The costume department merits particular praise for Caliban’s costume and Ariel’s stunning black light-up wings, created by assistant stage manager Meg Hatfield, which were particularly impressive.
Overall, ShakeCo put on an ebullient show that not only engaged with the audience and made them laugh, but also provided an original interpretation of The Tempest. Although the lads’ tendency to shout might have been pared back a little, Maguire and Broom’s masterful performances balanced out the atmosphere. I look forward to seeing what ShakeCo put on next!