Brighton Fringe 2011
A one act, hour long, simplified stage version of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ by Chyngton Youth Academy of Arts and Drama, using mixed media, dance, song, live and recorded music; for a cast of 35 young actors mostly between the ages of 11 to 14. This text has been abridged by Nicolette Miles, Choreographed by Janette May, and directed by Sarah Green and Nicolette Miles.
This production of ‘The Tempest’ uses choral speaking, ensemble acting, projected images and film, recorded and live music, singing, movement, dance, and physical theatre to bring Shakespeare to life for new audiences. There is a beautiful vision in this production, and a very fresh interpretation of this famous play. The reinterpreted script uses an almost Greek-style Chorus to perform much of the text (cast as ‘Spirits of the Island: Water Spirits, Air Spirits, Earth Spirits and Fire Spirits’) with echoes, repetition, choral speaking, singing and ‘set-piece’ choreography, slotted in at key moments in the narrative. Some of these set pieces are rather clumsily slotted in and seem to be more an opportunity for the academy students to showcase their talents rather than effective theatrical device to enhance the telling of the story and characters. I feel that dialogue and text could have been used more here, so that the dance pieces enhance rather than replace the text. However, one of these set pieces worked especially well as the spirits performed a beautifully choreographed and well-executed contemporary jazz/hiphop style piece in unison. Special mention must go to performer Chloe Buckland who has very good stage presence, good facial expressions and well-interpreted reactions, convincing character work, and excellent dance skills. The overall portrayal of the Island Spirits is haunting and engaging and these players do a good job of staying character throughout, and seem to understand the vision of the directors which seems to have been well-communicated.
The show is nicely designed and staged, and the mixed-media elements work really well. Lighting is good, with effective use of colour and shadow, and good use of black backcloths. Visually, certainly the piece is good – very much a Tempest for the 21st Century; a Tempest for the digital age.
In terms of the acting performances, there were only a couple of line fluffs, but lack of projection and lack of energy from some of the cast members is an issue. The actor playing Miranda has the most problems with projection, and especially when there is recorded music playing over her dialogue. Also, her dialogue is often spoken far too quickly, and needs to be slowed right down in order to make more sense.
The love story between Miranda and Ferdinand is utterly unconvincing and, even taking into account the young age of the actors, I feel a lot more work could have been done here to help the actors understand their roles. This was an issue with many of the performances; a lot of the acting seemed to be just in the style of ‘going through the motions’, and much of the acting seemed bored and boring, noncommittal and although all is slick and well-rehearsed, a lot more confidence is needed, and things felt a little disconnected and flat at times. This is especially the case in the scenes with the sailors – this group of actors need to begin to develop a lot more confidence, commitment and energy in their performances. There is a rendition of ‘What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor’ which I can only describe as "sweet" at best, and "weak" at worst. I don’t think the sailors were meant to be portrayed as either sweet or weak. A lot more character work is needed here.
Special mention must go in particular to my favourite scene, featuring my three favourite actors in this show, Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo, when they sing and dance to "Ban, Ban, Caliban". These three are the most enjoyable characterisations of the production. Stephano is not an entirely convincing drunk and there is scope here for a lot more comedy, but this actor comes into his own when singing and dancing, and this character delightfully comes to life at these moments. There is a good attempt at characterisation from the actor playing Caliban, with effective use of voice. Physicality and movement could be more creatively used here however, and the costume was more than a little bizarre. I will end by saying that the young actor playing the butler Trinculo, Joshua Knight, is totally superb and gives a delightful, charming and ohsowatchable performance, and for me is the ‘star’ of this charming show. Well done Joshua, you belong on stage!