Brighton Festival 2018
Seven men directed by Peter Stickney parade on a wooden promontory by Morgan Brind, constructed by Splinter Scenery, a neatly-constructed period set evoking a pair of battened hatches slant from the vertical above which a promenade with wooden rails suggests a cell strewn with canvas, doing brief service as the ship but mostly Prospero’s cell. Bright costumes by Polly Laurence made by Planet Costume Services. Darren Royston manages mighty chorography in a little room. Jacquie Crago’s voice coaching points a clarity already instinct here. Alex Beetschen’s arrangements prove ideal on a sweltering outdoor afternoon. This is the start of their tour of The Tempest, playing to over sixty venues by September 23rd.
Rough magic? The weather thought so, enchanting us with beating-down sun of over twenty-six degrees then suddenly a scumbling wind and a brief shower. It was as if Prospero really had mounted in the welkin’s cheek; but otherwise the miracle lies in how The Lord Chamberlain’s Men swelter out their brilliant clothing.
The Lord Chamberlain’s Men arrive at the Brighton Festival for the second year at BOAT open air theatre. Think Globe on Tour then authentic male-only company (though not quite boys). This is the start of their tour of The Tempest, playing to over sixty venues by September 23rd.
Seven men directed by Peter Stickney parade on a wooden promontory by Morgan Brind, constructed by Splinter Scenery. It’s a neatly-constructed period set evoking a pair of battened hatches slant from the vertical above which a promenade with wooden rails suggests a cell strewn with canvas, doing brief service as the ship but mostly Prospero’s cell.
Bright costumes by Polly Laurence – all ochres, buffs, old golds and reds, and a greenery-yallery fool’s set for Trinculo reach their apex in a doublet: Ariel’s sky-blue and silver construction that sets him apart (except when William Pennington’s Ariel is a most delicate Boatswain, and latterly has to be two people at once). Darren Royston manages mighty choreography in a little room. Jacquie Crago’s voice coaching points a clarity already instinct here. Alex Beetschen’s arrangements prove ideal on a sweltering outdoor afternoon. Not just ‘Twas in the Merry Month of May’ but the spirits’ Masque of Act IV. Here Beetschen arranges it as a madrigal all seven players intone, quite raptly, to the faintly mournful timbre of Dowland rather than more typical madrigalists like Weelkes, Morley, Gibbons (another melancholic) or East. It’s a small miracle of mortality; every third note invokes vanishing in thin air. And it’s Ariel who plays that most airborne of instruments, the flute. Most of the snatches are Thomas Ravenscroft’s.
This is a fleet Tempest, playing just over two hours only slightly trimmed as befits one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays. Its dispatch is part of its enormous charm, with multi-roling quick-changes part of the ritual of suspending disbelief. We never lose our time as Caliban fears; everything cuts to the cloth chase. Yes, Pennington’s Boatswain is delicate, and Duncan Mitchell’s Gonzalo looks hardly out of university, doubling as the drunken butler Stephano, in fetching russet. But they characterize as deftly as the open air allows.
Centring all is Danaan McAleer’s Prospero. He’s the one cast-member who doesn’t double though Pennington’s virtually always Ariel. Some of the strongest moments come, as they must from this pairing. In particular Pennington’s quite passionate recitation of the piteous state of Prospero’s ‘enemies’. When he intones ‘Mine would sir, were I human’ of compassion that beat of broken line to McAleer’s ‘Then I shall’ is no less telling for its dispatch; there’s a beat that hangs in the air. These two aren’t at each other as in the more entwined RSC production, nor does Ariel sulk unduly. He wilts when his cleaving in pine is recalled, and shows less aggression than some recent Ariels. That strikes the right balance.
McAleer compels command, passionately not calmly recollecting his wrongs and his final abjurings. It’s a fine central performance rightly played with no laughs through a lot of magic garments and a full Milan regalia which McAleer begins to pluck off at a key point.
Simon Jenkins’ Miranda (also a sulky Sebastian, the King of Naples’ brother) requites Prospero with an ardently straightforward Miranda hardly in control of her identity, but here not a straying or overtly amorous girl; more just awestruck. There’s a delicious moment where she picks up a log easily where her imprisoned beau Ronnie Yorke’s Ferdinand (also Antonio, suitably his own uncle, Prospero’s usurping brother) staggers. It’s been done occasionally before; it’s still funny. Yorke’s upright Ferdinand possesses the wonder, youth, brief petulance and clinching tenderness for a more honourable young prince than his father.
Patrick Neyman’s Alonso doubles as Trinculo – in such multi-roling Tempests it’s common to develop contrasts and it’s done here with aplomb. Whilst the fantastically anticed green/yellow apparition is all fleer and flounce, sulk and a fool’s exaggeration. As Alonso by contrast he shows more majesty than malice, and this works convincingly to his redemption. His hollowed performance compels pity. His curious twinning with Prospero intoning ‘deeper than e’er plummet sounded’ not only recalls Prospero’s vow later. It echoes the knelling Ferdinand correspondingly thinks he hears for his father – Ariel’s songs also work as fine set-changes and are repeated on one occasion.
Reece Richardson’s bearded Master (three of the seven sport beards) is at one with that role; as he is smirched with blue dye like tear-streaks as a roaring Caliban. As antipode to Prospero’s rough magic his rude sense of magic around is hewn with ardour and regret, in speeches as declamatory as McAleer’s. This Caliban’s angry, his power cabin’d cribb’d confin’d. He’s obeisant for a fleeting while, and knows the limits of disobedience. But his roar on occasion should warn Stephano as well as Trinculo that when the liquor wears off he’ll understand how in one sense he’s their superior.
The masque with the said rapt music ought to be mentioned as a costume change and delicious act, delicate, funny, touching. Mitchell’s Iris is succeeded by Richardson’s Ceres. A Bearded Ceres? Wheat’s bearded. Neyman’s Juno places the floweret crowns on the couple and they vanish. Though trimmed this Masque unlike some, possesses force and grace.
Of intimate Tempests (not the massy RSC Beale production) one scrolls through memory past the sparky Donmar Walter and a beautifully patient Print Room production that contained a peculiar raptness, to the Globe’s 2013 production with Roger Allam. Here McAleer proves he possesses the majesty and the sad mastery of his role. A superb, fleet outdoor Tempest that never cloys nor guys. What it has to lack in quiet subtlety, like all such productions, it more than makes up in fleet humour: with dispatch, keen wit, warmth, and truth.