Generally considered William Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest dates back to 1611. According to the leaflet handed out at the door, London Theatre Workshop’s production of The Tempest ‘will explode with vibrancy, visceral and sensory experiences’; the result is, however, less exciting. Given its linear storyline, The Tempest’s modern adaptations must be able to pick upon definite elements, and build the strength of each production accordingly, in order to really captivate the attention and the interest in following such a notorious story.
Originally portraying only one female character, this production’s pivotal point lies in its gender-blind casting. Yet this fascinating strategy, which has met growing favour in adaptations of Shakespearean plays over the past years, is here not fully exploited: while it’s true that the veracity of characters isn’t remotely spoilt, it’s also partly unsatisfying that the couple Miranda/Ferdinand is still played by an actress and an actor. It’s only fair to assume the production would have made a stronger impact, had Ferdinand been played by an actress too.
The leaflet also informs us that due to unforeseen circumstances, the role of Prospero had to be re-cast only two and a half weeks before the debut, which constitutes the other issue of the production.
Despite the evident and commendable effort of Karen McCaffrey, the lack of synergy with the whole show affects the portrayal of Prospero, whose darkest nuances as tyrannical ruler of the island and embodiment of patriarchal pressure are disappointedly denied in favour of a mild farcical characterisation.
The start is promising, as the audience is admitted via an on-stage entrance, which enables spectators to peacefully appreciate the beautiful set, eye-catching and very well-constructed. The cast deliver good performances throughout, but specific positive mentions are for Ruskin Denmark, for delivering an amusing and very human Caliban, and Samantha Béart, who delightedly juggles two very different characters – Miranda and Trinculo – with extremely convincing results.
Finally, Marie Blount’s lively and expressive interpretation of Gonzalo brings depth to the secondary plot of The Tempest – Antonio and Sebastian’s conspiracy to kill Alonso and Gonzalo – turning this into the most engaging one.
Given the already noisy location – which at times takes attention away from the performance – a suggestion for the next shows would be to correct and improve the sound, as it’s confused and confusing, particularly distracting rather than adding value to the ongoing action.
It’s a real shame London Theatre Workshop production of The Tempest doesn’t live up to the expectations created around potential fascinating outcomes of gender-blind casting – such effort goes wasted, and the general feeling upon leaving the theatre is to have witnessed an unpolished version of a very famous play, resulting from the lack of coherence and strength.
Review by Gabriella Infante
Shakespeare’s final play, The Tempest, was the culmination of his life’s work and his final act in the theatre. As Prospero hangs up his enchanted cloak, Shakespeare sets down his quill for the last time: “Now my charms are all o’erthrown.” As the horizons of the known world grow larger, through discovery and colonisation of brave new worlds, Shakespeare magics up a prescient and timely tale of power, servitude, and enslavement. Teeming with characters who burst at the seams with vitality and vigour, the Bard creates a play unlike any of his others. An uncharted island, a banished duke turned sorcerer, his “uncivilised” daughter, a begrudging sprite indentured into servitude, and an enraged, enslaved Island native, all are brought to life on the stage.
The ensemble of the London Theatre Workshop have travelled back in time, and distilled that sense of new-found wonder and terror that Shakespeare felt when he set quill to scroll. Every moment of The Tempest bursts to life in surprising, shocking, new and terrifying ways. What results is a visual and aural kaleidoscope of senses, impressions and experiences. Join us as we use music, movement, and the stuff that dreams are made on to breathe new life into this classic play!
Directed by Associate Producer of London Theatre Workshop, Brandon Force, director of 2014’s critically acclaimed Romeo & Juliet.