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Review of Iris Theatre’s The Tempest at St Paul’s Church, London

Iris Theatre's The Tempest, St. Paul's Church (Paul Brendan, Prince Plockey and Reginald Edwards) - courtesy of Nick Rutter.
Iris Theatre’s The Tempest, St. Paul’s Church (Paul Brendan, Prince Plockey and Reginald Edwards) – courtesy of Nick Rutter.

Opening their tenth summer season performing in the beautiful gardens of St Paul’s Church, Iris Theatre brings us William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Falling on occasion under the description of tragicomedy, romance and/or fantasy, those familiar with this play may know it is now considered by many to be one of his greatest works.

Following a group of sailors that become stranded on an island (with the expected mix of magical, mystical and romantic consequences), what better location for this performance than this idyll in the centre of the city – an island of calm within the maelstrom. A very fitting choice for the setting and a setting that they used to great effect. This latest interpretation of the classic is presented as somewhere between an ‘environmental’ performance and a ‘promenade’ and embodies the shape and feeling of both the grounds and the church intelligently.

In keeping with the site-specific theatre feel, the play is more interactive than many and I found myself on occasion almost interacting directly with the performers. In one particularly memorable moment, this had me trying desperately hard not to laugh as an inquisitive Ariel was seen sneaking tiny taps on people’s shoulders and gently tugging at scarves. I loved that touch and the fine details like that are something that made this evening stand out for me.

It is fair to say, I think, that the interactive elements were confined to the comedic parts of the performance for the most part, but the post-interval section of the play has some less-comedic interaction worth looking out for. No more shall be said on that though for fear of ruining a very well-crafted surprise.

At this stage, I must confess to not being well-versed with the original play and cannot in good conscience draw many comparisons, however, I imagine that the way the play is structured is true to the original as the scenes seemed very clearly defined and rarely did comedy and drama share a setting.

My inexperience of the original also makes me reticent to levy my one criticism of the evening; it seemed to tail off at the end. Not in a performance perspective per se, but there was much build-up that seemed to lead to a slightly rushed-feeling conclusion and I will at some point have the opportunity to find out if that is the way Shakespeare intended it or if it is a script-cutting error of some sort but for now; I will assume the former. Benefit of the doubt.

The setting itself came in four main areas, with two being more obviously constructed and the others using more of the natural setting than any manufactured pieces. The opening scene uses the most elaborate set piece, and this is crafted beautifully in a manner that would look striking on a large theatre stage or any green verdant outdoor performance space. The spaces used were not large and instead, the characters seemed to rely on bearing and mannerism over movement which, for me, assisted in my suspense of belief and allowed me to invest more in them than I otherwise might.

The cast put on an excellent performance and while I could sing the praises of each individual for some considerable time, let it suffice to say that it was an incredibly high-quality performance and the differing styles worked marvellously together. Every member of the cast showed great versatility through either adopting multiple parts or presenting in different ways with some even adding to the elements of music present in the piece with both voice and instrument.

These musical elements were used to great effect as plot devices, isolated entertainment pieces and time-fillers in equal measure and the idea of using a musical section to allow performers time to change costumes is an excellent one that was employed with subtlety.

A final note on the casting; Shakespeare is sometimes criticised for his lack of female characters in The Tempest and it is undeniably true that there is only one female character. As such, it was nice to see that not only was Ariel portrayed in female form, but Gonzalo reversed the old ‘men playing women’ historic theatrical standard by having Joanne Thomson portray the male character.

Overall, very talented performing and direction have come together to bring a finely-honed classic to a beautiful setting and Iris Theatre’s The Tempest is an excellent summer theatre experience to be taken full advantage of, if at all possible. Highly recommended.

5 Star Rating

Review by Damien Russell

Award-winning Iris Theatre’s summer season will present a unique theatrical promenade experience in the middle of Covent Garden. Shakespeare’s The Tempest opens this year’s enchanting outdoor season followed by Daniel Winder’s adaptation of The Three Musketeers – suitable for all the family.

Inspired by the courtly royal masques of the 17th century and the designs of Inigo Jones (the architect behind St Paul’s Church), The Tempest will present an evening of pomp, magic and illusion. Directed by Iris Theatre’s Artistic Director Daniel Winder, this bold production stars Propellor and West End regular Tony Bell. As St Paul’s Church transforms into a mysterious island, audiences are led on an exciting indoor and outdoor promenade adventure to discover whether anger wins or love will redeem all. Dress to impress as you are about to join a party at the end of the world!

The Tempest: Wednesday 20th June – Saturday 28th July 2018, 14.30
St Paul’s Church, Bedford Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 9ED


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