Browse reviews

FringeReview UK 2022

Low Down

Directed by Sean Holmes and Co-Director Diane Page (Assistant Director Naeem Hayat), Designer Paul Wills,  Design Associate Sandra Falase.

Composer Cassie Kinoshi. Choreographer Asha Jennings-Grant. Community Producer Ella James. Dramaturg Zoe Svendsen

Movement Director Rachael Nanyonjo, Globe Associate Movement Glynn MacDonald, Fight Director Maisie Carter. Costume Supervisor Jackie Orton

Music Director/Double Bass Rio Kai, Percussion Magnus /Mehta, Guitar Shirley Tetteh, Recorder Olivia Petryszak, Cello Midori Jaeger,

Associate Voice Tess Dignan. Globe Associate Text Christine Schmidle. Casting Director Becky Paris.

Till October 22nd


Is the Globe’s Tempest such rough-justice magic? Not judging by this season, including the Wanamaker. Three other productions deploy sawn-off endings: two involving direction by either Sean Holmes or Diane Page (directing the current Julius Caesar) who’s listed, unlike Holmes, as co-director which seems unfair on her. There’s assistant director Naeem Hayat too.

So my first glib thought: ‘sawn-off Sean’ won’t cut it. It’s an aesthetic highlighting that every Shakespeare production’s cut somewhere. Just – closures are vital, their absence rewrites too far and tells us where the director invites us to land.

Not on a magic island, where a Perspex box hedged with yellow sou-westers and megaphones (Joanne Howarth’s Boatswain prominent) enact a static tempest-freighting of Versace Italians before we head off to Love Island atte Ibiza after the season’s closed.

Paul Wills’ design (associate Sandra Falase) emphasises an abandoned revel where Ciaran O’Brien’s Caliban seems hungover from last year’s party, in light green beachwear. Sunglasses, a stripped-down languor of palm-trees wrapped to pillars rustle genteel abandonment.

Here, everything’s much more relaxed than the opening noise, often percussion-led. Cassie Kinoshi’s attractive score threads in and out of shanties, songs and effects, just occasionally as in Caliban’s ‘sweet noises’ monologue, salting the caramel a bit too much.

That’s the only thing lacking in a vocal clarity that’s a hallmark of this Tempest – the entire cast hail from current productions, most returning throughout the Terry era. It makes for a repertory company that shouldn’t be underestimated. The way these actors understand and listen to each other is a mark of this Tempest’s distinction.

Notwithstanding cuts and delicious ad-libs, this is, with one exception, an ideal way in to anyone coming to The Tempest for the first time. Especially for a younger audience – Ella James as community producer must be delighted. De-colonising depth, pathos, wonder, are in short supply though.

The magic’s in the festival and Jackie Orton’s funky decorated white suits worn by Rachel Hannah Clarke’s Ariel and nearly everyone else doubling for choreographer Asha Jennings-Grant’s Ceres masque: which turns into an eroticising bacchanale egging on Ferdinand and Miranda to a wild clinch that Prospero tries desperately to stop.

It’s a comic but revelatory moment, though displacing Prospero’s following speech is unnecessary. It does though also make more sense of Prospero’s later obsession with breaking virgin-knots (okay, Miranda’s disturbingly fifteen, a year older than Juliet, thanks early modern Europe) which he unhealthily harps on.

Ferdy Roberts’ Prospero comes freighted in tight yellow underpants among yellow crates (‘come unto these yellow crates’ a sort of subtext of the dominant colour): and nothing else until he too dons spotless Versace which threatens to kill him.

We’re in a holiday humour and would willingly waste our time here. Holmes Page and Hayat lead their team in two-and-a-half hours permanently relaxed performance, which turns out ideal for this particular summer. Blown-up lilos, a translucent pink duck, a Suffolk-pinkish lobster, shades, we get it.

Roberts’ Prospero takes Miranda’s ‘such a tale would cure deafness’ as a stage direction. His cutting clarity, often delivered downstage on a promontory where he skulks on a lilo or stands (and delivers) would do service for a darker production, stripped or no. He’s physically and aesthetically a bit marooned. Threatening to frown into one note, he in fact soars in monologues but through no fault of his own is marooned there too, as we’ll see. He’s paradoxically also physically far more active – darting about at one point – than most cloaked Prosperos. It’s a welcome break from deadliness.

His deepest pitch is to Clarke’s swanky Ariel, who at one point saunters on in a white Steston matching her attire. Here’s no aethereal presence, but an occasionally sulky, watchful Ariel, who walks on the ground. Defying convention too, she’s stately, queenly even, enduring tirades, yet rising to that ‘I would, if I were human’ allowing Roberts that line-break pause (that Roger Allam so magnificently achieved here in 2013 to Colin Morgan’s Ariel) to ‘Then I shall’: one touch of magic in an earthy island.

To Nadi Kemp-Sayfi’s spirited, scarlet-party-dressed Miranda Roberts is protective enough – his rough commands to Oliver Huband’s Ferdinand make them both tremble. Kemp-Sayfi’s sort of pacified, except when away. She defies her father’s ‘inclined to sleep’ then suddenly drops, a hallmark too of the bubbling physical comedy we come to expect.

Her Miranda’s lifted with a gamine scampiness that shudders to premature womanhood when she encounters Huband’s warm, musing-on-father’s-wrack mode which irradiates his performance. The wonderful playfulness of Jeremy Herrin’s 2013 production here (Jessie Buckley, Joshua James no less) has never been matched anywhere else; but Huband and Kemp-Sayfi’s suddenness, their sexual feelings in the bacchanale are potent. And when they’re revealed at the end, they’re not calmly playing chess, Kemp-Sayfi rides pick-a-back on Huband flailing a chess-set. Hello daddies.

And Kemp-Sayfi too gets a delicious moment with her ‘O brave new world’ which the Globe alone invites.

There’s touchingly stately work from Peter Bourke’s not-so-old Gonzalo, Montaigne’s utopia lovingly delivered; Howarth’s anxious Francisco as well as her reverting to ‘tight and yare’ Boatswain; Patrick Osborne’s querulous slow-on-uptake Antonio; and Lucy Phelps – holidaying from her superb Beatrice – as saturnine-but-mercurial plotter Sebastian. Katy Stephens’ Alonso manages a more sinned-against despair, someone already shadowed by wrong-doing, taking the supposed death of their son as punishment.

It’s hardly surprising though that George Fouracres stars as Stefano, given everything he’s touched from his Hamlet to Dogberry this season; relishing here a sartorial greed in shades, wheeled on in a crate, aided by Ralph Davis’ Trinculo who’s never too much i’the sun himself. It’s blissful, Davis relishing his chance to lead the audience on in (at this production) the Lionesses’ victory-chant as accession to fortune if not fame. Fouracres cuts through Stefano’s drunkenness to suggest Stefano’s limited, viscerally greedy horizons. Davis’ Trinculo isn’t so venal, he just loves to big up the party.

Their interaction with O’Brien’s Caliban is the point where you see the second half in particular both vibrant and cohesive, where the very discrete elements of the play finally knit. Perhaps the yellow quotient kicks in, but the aesthetic gels, the trio anchor it richly. They – and finally the production –  know who they are. The scene with Ariel dubbing Trinculo is convincingly placed upstage, the movement here, as Davis skulks off, as clear as anything I’ve seen. Their pulling out the trash is effortless given the crates, their drunken bubble pricked in an instant.

Beach flunky or not, O’Brien’s Caliban owns a pathos with less room to flourish: he’s marginalised, not overheard enough as he essays the ‘sweet isle’ which itself comes on with a shade too little wonder, almost drowning him. Nor is the profundity of his thwarted sexual violence explored or considered. Cut down, like Roberts, he seems to dream elsewhere.

The real violence though comes to Roberts. That famous speech from IV/I gets displaced to the end, delivered superbly; and where he could have continued quite convincingly, Roberts shrivels visibly, walks out, and the production drops in energy as it ends, as if the actors mourn something that’s not yet happened. There’s no release and we – and palpably the actors – need it. So does this late Tempest. To darken the comedy at that point when you’ve refused to engage with its considerable ambiguities earlier, seems a short-cut to profundity that isn’t earned.

Nevertheless, this is an otherwise joyous production, that without its gimmicky close, could certainly furnish a way in for many, and get them talking about its decisions, rough-hew them as they will.