It is already evident from the output of new productions in recent weeks that ‘lockdown’ is a relatively common theme. And why not? It is immensely topical and universal – even key workers and others whose working hours have either not changed or even increased will almost undoubtedly have noticed the changes to everyone’s lifestyles that we need not rehash here. After The Tempest seeks to portray many of the characters from Shakespeare’s play in the modern era. It is, perhaps, a bit of a stretch, to call this a sequel to The Tempest – set in 2020, there would be so many unanswered questions as to what the characters were doing in the intervening centuries since the Bard’s Tempest premiered in 1611. What, for instance, do they know about the founding of the United States, or the coronation of Queen Victoria?
With suspension of disbelief in force at the living room door (or whichever room where you watch online productions at home), the action begins with a range of photos and videos of major events of the last few years, delivered at breakneck pace, before a series of monologues takes up a first act lasting almost an hour and a half. As ever, the beauty of an online production – should the technology permit it – is that one can pause the action at one’s own leisure. In your reviewer’s case it was to answer the front door to a Deliveroo ‘rider’ because, yet again, he couldn’t be bothered to cook an evening meal.
The details of the lockdown are laid bare throughout the production, with Max (Max Bayford) having trouble explaining to his mother what it all means – he endeavours, somewhat in vain, to make clear that he still loves her even though he can’t come around at the moment. Some of the other monologues come across more as streams of consciousness than carefully constructed pieces of theatre (though the whole thing is scripted, running with two separate casts to give enough roles to all the students in this cohort presenting this show as part of their studies). This was particularly true for Nini Ugulava’s Trinculo – in the Shakespeare play, Trinculo is the court jester, whilst the 2020 version is the wannabe social media influencer who is a legend only in their own mind. It was irritating to watch in some ways, but I can’t fault the portrayal of someone with the sheer vacuity of some of the actual relentless self-promoters out there.
Stephano (Sophie Louise Meakin) has as much of a drinking problem as Trinculo, though they are dealing with the matter in starkly different ways – far be it from me to give too much away by saying anything more about that. Ariel (Phoebe Gunson) makes a strong suggestion, although subtly, that Prospero’s (Zsara Jaeger) deed at the end of Act V of The Tempest doesn’t necessarily mean all magic has ceased to exist. Prospero’s own manner is disturbing to say the least and yet strangely compelling A meeting called by Caliban (Charlotte Stuart) scheduled to be in Bethnal Green is cancelled because of the Prime Minister’s lockdown announcement and takes place on Zoom instead.
The Zoom meeting descends into chaos, partly because of disagreements between Miranda (Danielle Ray) and Ferdinand (Nathan R L Dale), and partly because a couple of others, for strikingly different reasons, have little interest in displaying civility. It’s a sight to behold, and a case study in what happens when concrete guidelines for participation aren’t set down prior to a meeting.
Overall, the style of delivery was very appropriate for the medium: after all, there’s no need to project to the back row of the upper circle. The costume design may not have been anything to write home about, but at the same time it could be viewed as highly stylistic, inasmuch as the clothes on display are the kind of items their respective characters would be reasonably expected to wear in this day and age. There’s a decent amount of food for thought in this production, as contemporary for our times as The Tempest was for Shakespeare’s. Bucking the trend for new plays to be one-act, no-interval affairs, this is a confident and assured piece of theatre in such an uncertain and fearful world.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Twenty years after The Tempest, or five hundred years, depending upon your perspective, Shakespeare’s characters are still here – older, and worn, and trying to manage in an extraordinary moment.
Contains occasional strong language and adult themes
Performed by the inaugural graduating cohort of BA Acting & Theatre Making students at London College of Music, University of West London
17 June featuring: Red Cast
Prospero – Zsara Jaeger
Ariel – Phoebe Gunson
Miranda – Danielle Ray
Ferdinand – Nathan R. L. Dale
Trinculo – Nini Ugulava
Stephano – Sophie Louise Meakin
Ava/Caliban – Charlotte Stuart
Max – Max Bayford
18 June featuring: Blue Cast
Prospero – Tabatha Pegg
Ariel – Robyn Caldwell
Miranda – Jaymie Quin-Stewart
Ferdinand – Jake Hart
Trinculo – Emily Hawkes
Stephano – Charlotte Rosa Churchill
David/Caliban – Lander
Kate – Marianne Kelly
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