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Review of The Tempest at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

The Tempest at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
The Tempest at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

Cole Porter famously wrote “Brush up your Shakespeare, Start quoting him now, Brush up your Shakespeare, And the women you will wow” nice words but for the Controlled Chaos Theatre Company fairly pointless as they present their all-female version of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest at the Brockley Jack.

I’m sure you know the basics of the story. Prospero (Jo Bartlett), rightful Duke of Milan, and his daughter, Miranda (Michelle Pittoni), have been stranded for twelve years on an island after Prospero’s brother Antonio (Shereener Browne) – aided by Alonso, the King of Naples (Orla Sanders) – deposed him and set him adrift. Gonzalo (Alma Reising), Prospero’s friend and the King’s counselor, had secretly supplied their boat with the essentials of life, including some of Prospero’s prize books.

On the island, Prospero has caused his servant Ariel (Carmella Brown) to create a massive storm which in the bay causing the King’s ship to founder and the people aboard – including the King, his son Ferdinand (Hannah Jessop), and Brother Sebastian (Afsana Sayyed), Antonio and Gonzales – to be tossed into the sea. Ferdinand is separated from the rest of the party and washes up alone. You may wonder how Prospero brings this about. Well, in addition to being a displaced Duke, Prospero is also an accomplished magician who controls a spirit by the name of Ariel (Carmella Brown) who he has promised to free soon. So, we have Ferdinand wandering around one bit of the island believing his father and friends are all dead, whilst on another part of the Island King Alonso and his courtiers are mourning the apparent death of Ferdinand. Elsewhere, Trinculo (Kimberley Capero), the King’s jester and his friend Stephano (Ceri Ashe), the King’s drunken butler have also washed up and joined forces with the island’s only other inhabitant, the evil and ugly monster Caliban (Kate Sketchley) who fears and hates Prospero and enlists the two drunken servants to help him destroy both Prospero and his daughter. With all the pieces in place, Prospero sets about maneuvering the elements and people to have his revenge, restore his position and escape from his island.

It is well known that back in Shakespeare’s day, men played all the roles in plays. It’s a nice touch therefore that in this hundredth year of female suffrage female actors play all the parts in this version of The Tempest. Just as with the all-female Posh last year, the play works nicely.

Turning back to this production and I was quite impressed with the overall look and feel of the design. By keeping the set pretty minimal, Director Dylan Lincoln was able to make really good use of the performance space available so that it never looked crowded. I particularly loved the opening to the second act with the logs which relied on sharp timing from the actors concerned and demonstrated the futility of Fernando’s task beautifully. The opening, with the tempest storm itself was nicely done with the tall Helga Ragnars as the Boatswain, remaining calm and controlling both crew and passengers as the boat was tossed about by the storm. Similar to the set, Elise Moorehouse kept the costumes simple, mainly black with a ‘sword’ and a coloured sash for the nobility; a wonderfully floaty shirt, matched with excellent face make-up for Ariel.

And speaking of Ariel, many congratulations to Carmella Brown who was absolutely wonderful in the role. Both my companion, Lynne and I agreed that Carmella was the standout performance of the show. I’d also like to mention Michelle Pittoni who has a lovely range of facial expressions that she put to great use to articulate Miranda’s thoughts – particularly when Prospero was warning Fernando not to even consider taking Miranda’s virginity until they were well and truly married. The actor playing Prospero has a difficult job in The Tempest. Right from the start, they have a huge opening speech that gives the whole of the back story to the character and basically means for a good while they are the only person speaking and receiving 100% of the audience’s concentration. Jo Bartlett did a pretty good job in telling Prospero’s tale and engaging the audience so that they felt sorry enough for Prospero that they could forgive some of the bad things the character then goes as does. I did have a but of a problem with the King and his party who, despite and awful lot happening with their story, seemed slightly too unemotional and detached from everything.

Overall, this wasn’t a bad Tempest. The company describe it as a comedy and certainly there are many comedic elements in it. Not all of them worked for me I’m afraid. It is sometimes forgotten that The Tempest is, in reality, three separate stories that only really come together right at the very end. For me, the Prospero/Miranda/Ferdinand story worked extremely well, and although there were positive elements in the other two, I just didn’t feel as connected to them as I should.

3 Star Review

Review by Terry Eastham

Beware the spirits of the air, the monsters of the earth and the wrath of dangerous sorcerers.
Suspended in time on an enchanted island, Duke Prospero lives in exile, comforted by his daughter Miranda and served by his sprite Ariel and Caliban, his slave.

With nothing to do Prospero becomes obsessed by revenge. When storms wash up new travellers to these shores, vengeance, at last, seems within reach. But with the arrival of strangers, Miranda discovers temptations of the flesh, and Caliban plots to murder his master.

Controlled Chaos’s all-female production of The Tempest shakes the ground with its bold re-imagining of William Shakespeare’s final dark comedy.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep

The Creative Team
Playwright | William Shakespeare Composer | Nicholas Dunkley & Michael J Ansley
Director | Dylan Lincoln Sound Design | Michael J Ansley
Producer | Paul Anthoney

The Cast
Prospero – Jo Bartlett, Miranda – Michelle Pittoni, Caliban – Kate Sketchley, Ariel – Carmella Brown, Ferdinand – Susanna Wolff, Sebastian – Mimi Edwards, Antonio – Shereener Browne, Gonzalo – Alma Reising, Trinculo – Kimberley Capero, Stephano – Ceri Ashe, Alonso – Orla Sanders, Ceres, Iris, Juno – Helga Ragnars, Boatswain – Afsana Sayyed.

The Tempest
by William Shakespeare
produced by Controlled Chaos UK
Tuesday 13 February – Saturday 3 March 2018
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre,
410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH


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