William Shakespeare has probably given the English language more new words – according to Shakespeare online he invented over 1700 words – and individual quotes than any other playwright.
In fact, I think barely a day goes by when someone in my vicinity inadvertently quotes Shakespeare’s works. I’m not sure which of the Bard’s works have produced the most oft-used quotes but if I was to take a guess, I would suggest it is The Tempest – a new version of which I saw recently at the Print Room at The Coronet in Notting Hill.
The story of The Tempest is fairly well known. A ship carrying Alfonso, the King of Naples (Paul Hamilton), his son and heir Ferdinand (Hugh John), the king’s brother Sebastian, Antonio, the Duke of Milan (Callum Dixon) and Gonzalo (Steven Beard) a kindly elderly courtier, flounders in a horrific storm and they are washed up on a mysterious island. Unbeknown to the King and his retinue, the storm has been conjured up by the sprite Ariel (Kristin Winters) who is the servant of the Lord of the island, Prospero (Kevin McMonagle). Prospero lives on the island with his daughter Miranda (Charlotte Brimble) and their deformed slave Caliban (Billy Seymour) and has had Ariel conjure this storm so that he can bring his story, and his time on the island, to an end. For, in reality, Prospero is the rightful Duke of Milan who was usurped by his treacherous brother Antonio aided by Alonso. So by Prospero’s design and Ariel’s magic, all the players in his downfall have been brought to him and now Prospero can have his revenge.
I have to say that of Shakespeare’s thirty-seven plays, The Tempest is one of my favourites, so I was really looking forward to seeing it performed. Unfortunately, this production didn’t quite meet my expectations. The main issue, in my view, was Kevin McMonagle’s portrayal of Prospero which didn’t fit my image of the character. To me, Prospero needs to be a really dominating figure who totally commands his island – and therefore the stage. Prospero has some amazing speeches, particularly in the opening when he tells Miranda his story, and you need to get a sense of his mass of emotions as he talks of losing his Dukedom, his plans for revenge, his love for his daughter and his distaste of Caliban. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel these in Paul’s performance. My other big gripe with the production was the way the script had been played with. Yes, you don’t have to stick totally to Shakespeare’s script and story, and I have seen productions have made major changes which work exceptionally well, but I felt some really important elements were missing – such as the comic scenes between Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo which although not part of the overall Prospero story are a very welcome part of the play.
Having said the above, there were elements of the production I did enjoy. In particular, Billy Seymour’s performance as Caliban which was first-rate. Whoever was responsible for Billy’s makeup did a first rate job as it looked horrendously realistic and when added to the whiny and whinging delivery, made Caliban a really great character. I also really liked the relationship between Hugh John’s Ferdinand and Charlotte Brimble’s Miranda which seemed genuinely warm and friendly with the two of them looking like a couple of young lovers ready to set off for life’s great adventure.
Though I have always wondered what happens when they get to Naples and Miranda realises there are lots of men as handsome as Ferdinand and maybe she was a bit too eager in giving her love away.
On the creative side, Director Simon Usher has put together a pretty good show. There were elements, such as having Prospero observing from the centre of the seating area – which worked really well but there were others such as the opening sequence where, with the thunder, flashing lights and general mayhem of the storm at times overwhelming the words, the fact the protagonists were on a boat took a little too long to firmly establish. Having said that, the storm itself was pretty impressive, and both Sound and Lighting Designers (Paul Bull and Ben Ormerod) should be congratulated for their work throughout.
Summing up then, whilst this production didn’t entirely work for me, The Tempest still remains high on my list of favourite Shakespeare plays. The story – which is almost three plays in one – covers a range of themes and has a timelessness about it that means it works pretty well wherever it is put on. This is the Print Room’s first foray into Shakespeare and whilst it is not perfect, this production shows that there is nothing stopping them continuing producing more in the future.
Review by Terry Eastham
21 Nov – 17 Dec
The Tempest is the world in two hours. The celestial, the domestic and the epic combine in a single time and place.