7th March 2017
The Tempest is one of Shakespeare's most lyrical plays. it is filled with music, strange airs, mysterious spirits and magic. But there is a darkness to it. It is essentially a play of ambition, treachery and revenge and redemption.
Prospero's brother has usurped his throne, influencing the King to ride against him. Rather than kill Prospero, he and his daughter are banished by the King and due to the duplicity of his brother who sends them away on an unseaworthy ship, they end up marooned on a remote magical island. In the twelve years that follow Prospero masters the art of magic helped by two unfortunate souls on the island - Caliban and Ariel. Ariel is a sprite who has been imprisoned in a tree by the witch Sycorax, Caliban is her son, a strange neglected creature. Both serve Prospero initially out of gratitude, but as his bitterness against his brother and the King grows he becomes cruel and rules them by force. His daughter Miranda is his only comfort, her beauty, grace and innocence a foil for the bitterness of her father.
When fate brings his enemies close to the island, Prospero conjures up a storm in order to exact his revenge. However, Miranda and Ferdinand fall in love and Prosperos heart is eventually softened towards his enemies, but not before he inflicts some retribution on them.
Anna Dobson's direction gives an interesting take on the play. The stage is set in a circle, books scattered around like the flotsam of a wreck, pages hang above the stage and are plastered onto the backdrop. The lighting is subdued, filtered through mists it changes subtly as the weather changes and as the day progresses. The cast enter from the sides of the stage and from the rear of the auditorium throughout, giving an inclusive feel, as characters pass close by and address their lines to the audience as they pass. The sprites act as props, and scenery, they observe and interact with the other characters to produce the sense of enchantment on the island. They are by turns fun, mischievous and sinister. They, the lighting and the music all help create a magical atmosphere.
There are excellent individual performances by Emma Jayne Richards, Sam Hinton, Pete McAndrew, as well as the double acts of Jim Simpson and Jake Wilson-Craw, and Richard Gardner and Steve Hewitt. Mark Burden is a rather solid choice for Ariel - a contrast to the usual ethereal image of the air sprite but it
worked. He is a rather intimidating sprite.
The Tempest is a strange mix of pastoral, love story, vengeance and supernatural. At times it feels disjointed and as often happens in Shakespeare's plays he does shoehorn in the moral. The People's production is an interesting and intriguing interpretation with much humour in the telling of a dark tale, backed up with beautifully performed music. While it perhaps lacks the impact of previous Shakespeare productions here, this capricious play certainly deserves a viewing.
The Tempest plays until 11th March.
Photographs by Paula Smart