FringeReview UK 2016
“Prospero, Duke of Milan, usurped and exiled by his own brother, holds sway over an enchanted island. He is comforted by his daughter, Miranda, and served by his spirit, Ariel, and his deformed slave, Caliban. When Prospero raises a storm to wreck his perfidious brother and his confederates on the island, his long contemplated revenge at last seems within reach.”
“Imbued with a spirit of magic and the supernatural,” The Tempest is “Shakespeare’s late great masterpiece of forgiveness, generosity and enlightenment”, brought to the Brighton stage by Droll and Folly Theatre.
Emporium (now known as 88 London Road) have been successfully creating and bringing high quality small-to-medium scale theatre to their Brighton venue for several years now. The high quality is rooted in decent production values – squeezing every penny out of a tight set budget, finding local professional talent, partnering with local drama schools, and making popular choices in the productions they bring to the stage. Their further ability to join up with some of our top drawer local companies also ensures the consistency in that quality is delivered time and again. This pattern certainly continues with The Tempest.
Director Nicholas Quirke, known for his award-winning outdoor productions at St Ann’s Well Gardens and Brighton Open Air Theatre (BOAT), has pushed his own envelope, attempting to claim the much smaller, indoor space at 88 London Road. He offers up a Tempest that still has a good story at its heart but tinkers with film, is inventive with an audio-Ariel, and a stage that re-makes the Emporium rake and adds a three-sided audience to cast them as the sea to Prospero’s Island. No corner of the space remains unused as actors sing and deliver from back, middle and front as well as off-stage. That, of course, breaks down the third wall, yet never too much and, despite the our occasional immersion among the performers, we are always still required to witness a story of regret, realisation and resolution.
So here we have a staging of The Tempest that runs for just over two hours, and I’m pleased to report that the whole endeavour is a huge success. DAFT have fully claimed the space and found new opportunities for their outdoor Theatre, indoors, without losing much of their signature style. That signature style involves bold, cheeky, inventive use of space, music, comedy set pieces, physicality, clowning, drunken comedy and the employment of silence and pace in ways that deliver up both tender moments, sadness, reconciliation, laughs, storm and fury, as needed. DAFT productions always employ variety but never lose the through line of needing, so, so, much to share a story.
Six performers share all the parts and Quirke has ensured, through skilled dramaturgy that clarity of narrative is upheld.
There’s a lack of tightness in some of the comedy in parts, and the opening sequence, the Tempest, is a little too much of a cacophony of sound, surrendering some of the clarity of words, to the impact of storm. The ending also needs a little more attention, in my view. It feels just a little hurried and would benefit from allowing the final closing of the circle to happen at a pace we can fully digest. Keep finessing that uneasy border between comedy and some of the more subtle emotions that need to be expressed.
Seth Morgan, who plays Prospero has a natural charisma that’s rare because in all the productions I’ve seen him in over the years, its a charisma that never overflows – there’s a measure to it that makes it powerful because it never feels pushed. He is fully the master of both magic and his own human frailty. Whether he’s holding a guitar (as in a previous production) or a staff as the magician, that force is always present. He delivers his soliloquy in a very modern way. Quirke has always built an accessible bridge between that older, traditional Shakespeare many of us are used to and expect, and something more contemporary, something more naturally ‘now’. These characters having something about them that suggests history, and yet they are brought successfully into our milieu through idiom, mannerism and the style of much of the comedy. The whole cast are splendidly flexible, on top of the material throughout, and talented actors, musicians, clowns, dancers and comedians.
This is how Johnny Depp might have played Caliban and I thought – Jesus! – in Ferdinand, Nicholas Quirke has planted a much younger version of himself on stage – beret and all! You can sense the playfulness of the rehearsals; when they dance, there’s showbiz fun mixed with how they’ve imagined magic to really be. It’s a riot. We stamp our own tempestuous invention into our lives if we ever so choose. The audience loved it, were infected by the mood, captured by the narrative, and there was a well deserved standing ovation at the end.
This version comes in at just over two hours At the interval to feel a 21st century entire audience so energised and so reached by Shakespeare is a rare and satisfying experience for a reviewer to behold. It’s still bedding in as a production yet it is still outstanding. A set that serves the mood and the intention of the production and the narrative so well. Simple and effective use of sound and film, never overblown which could so easily be done when portraying a tempest and its aftermath. Magic here that is less about wands and more about gesture and art. Comedy that’s rooted in slapstick, verbal knockabout, a bit of sauciness and plenty of clowning and double-takish sideswipes.
In the eye of this storm is Prospero’s patient plan, and an intention to reveal collusion and turn deep wrongs to better rights as the sun emerges majestically from the storm clouds of pain, anger and betrayal. Outstanding for its ownership of the space and a Tempest delivered with generosity, inventiveness, skill, fun and a passion for performance throughout.