FringeReview UK 2016
The Print Room at the Coronet unveils a rapt nearly 165 minute traversal (with interval) of The Tempest, directed by Simon Usher. Lee Newby’s design flung straight into Ben Ormerod’s lighting and Paul Bull’s sound, with composer Neil McArthur’s music.
Simon Usher brings to the Print Room at the Coronet a rapt nearly 165 minute traversal (with interval) of The Tempest, fitted yare and taut in Lee Newby’s design for the circular space with passages off, flung straight into a storm flickering in Ben Ormerod’s lighting (violet-prismed where needed, storm-lit or ensanguined) and Paul Bull’s sound, with composer Neil McArthur’s music only later able to measure off sweet noises against a spectacular cogently-voiced sea storm with passengers an crew huddling down hatches and pulling on tropes ducking heads in buckets.
Loose charcoal shale covers the ground; around is a sea-soused sky as backdrop, lowering storm. There’s little to distract once the voices are wracked, in the finest bosun – Will Hollingworth – I’ve seen on stage. The hyper-verisimilitude of this opening is often a high-point in productions; this one allowed rationale even amidst roaring.
Usher’s patient unfolding of this late tempest connects its seeming-tragic temper more closely with Charlotte Brimble’s ardent Miranda. Her actions from the first near distraction. Those clues in the text, Prospero’s telling her to cease her tears or pluck not his sleeve – are brought in with a full reason not seen before. Miranda’s a spirited part: here she aches at every twitch of injustice and awakens effortlessly not just to Ferdinand, but to Caliban.
Billy Seymour’s near-naked weal-slashed Caliban, whose high nasal tones lend him a holy believable difference yet human closeness to other young men, is bot chided and touched by Miranda, so making credible their former warmth. There’s unfinished business here, and we never get to sound it. It’s a curious moment, echoed later by Prospero when he acknowledges this thing of darkness. Seymour’s range from craven angry homunculus to rapt visionary to comic drunken monster is encompassed as a kind of wonder.
Brimble who’s so expressive with her father reacts well with Hugh John’s clean cut and commandingly clear Ferdinand – he’s mastered verse young and even in this company emerges one of its best speakers. Their badinage isn’t the comic awkward crush the Globe production for one uses, but it’s straight, trembling and as neat and fiery as a single malt.
John however takes another role, Sebastian, King Alonso’s younger brother taken by Paul Hamilton. And Hamilton majestically voiced and thoughtful as Alonso, a proto-repentant already, also takes the Geordie-voiced Trinculo, a contrast of another voice just as compelling in comedy as brooding on his son’s wrack. His worse spirit and would-be murderer Antonio, taken by Callum Dixon, enjoys himself even more as Stefano where the hierarchy, however fragile, is reversed. The drunken rebellious trio energize the surrounding scenes which convey their own sad magic.
This where Antonio, Sebastian and Alonso are joined by Gonzalo treats one of Shakespeare’s key disquisitions on idealism and despair abiding in one scene. Stephen Beard’s Gonzalo is no Polonius. He paraphrases Montaigne on the innocence of natives and lack of hierarchy, as well as recognizing keenly the villains he has to serve. His use of the word ‘gentleman’ shows where his teeth are, but his generosity is repeatedly brought out.
Spirits and mariners are actors, but there’s a chorus too used for the Masque of Ceres, where community-engaged local people are absorbed creatively into the production. This is a triumph too; no-one seems out of place.
There’s motifs abounding in the text with repeated phrases lie ‘a winder’ which Miranda utters at the opening and at the close with her Brave new world Speech. And Prospero in this virtually uncut text isn’t the first to intone ‘deep as plummet sounded’ – Alonso does. Usher’s patient unfolding allows us o take these connections in a brief play that’s often taken too briefly.
Kevin McMonagle’s patient Prospero seems almost underpowered in his sotto voce, a musing scholar without the force of his brother. But his banked ire rises slowly and soon commands with temper enough, and reasoned force. There’s weary iron suddenly sparked as the plot draws in and hid authority quickens and gathers to a head.
His better spirit Ariel, Kristin Winters, cannot keep her hands still on occasion. There’s good reason. She flutters for freedom but keeps everything as still as a trained dancer (who really does play the flute and tabor Shakespeare mentions), concentrating her energy, speaking quite deliberately, with a lip-purse of humour: there’s a hint of a mordant PA, but Winters owns an other-worldly quality rooted in the earth of service, quietly clamouring release. The great leap of recognition between them, usually in the half line ‘were I human’ ‘then I shall’ is delayed to where the greater virtue is forgiveness. When Ariel sings her last song running the circle that’s often paced out in rope, its again under her breath as she quickens like some electron and vanishes.
McMonagle’s slowly exhortative but intimate final address is overwhelming. The audience shiver not just in recognition of the cold that calls blankets to be impressed for audience service, or at actors’ bare feet, near naked Caliban or once Ferdinand; or the douses of water. It’s clear to everyone that something miraculous and patient is born from this simple, endlessly detailed production, releasing The Tempest into its fullest consciousness for a long time. However many Tempests you might have attended, see this one.