Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Whatever the Bard was on, he’d have liked this

ONCE every so often you emerge from a theatre just reeling with the joy of what

ONCE every so often you emerge from a theatre just reeling with the joy of what you’ve seen.

That was the effect on this reviewer of Improbable Theatre’s The Tempest. Their collaboration with the Playhouse and Northern Stage delivers a visual treat without ever needing to deviate from the extraordinary text.

If Shakespeare was writing today, he would endorse this production. He might even have directed it himself.

We are on Prospero’s Island, a place where he is omnipotent. But his power stretches no further than its shores, where he and his daughter Miranda were washed up 12 years earlier.

It’s a magic place once inhabited by a witch, now home to all manner of spirits — including the wispy Ariel, Prospero’s slave and messenger.



The set is a raked foreground with two soft piles of clothes to provide relief and extra dimension. The characters hide in and clamber about these colourful hills as we shift from scene to scene.

Frankly the plot is insane and you wonder if the Bard had found some exotic smoking material in his latter years, but it’s also fantastic and riveting. The acting in this version doesn’t differ much from others except for Tyrone Huggins’s Prospero, who is a tetchy, irritable and vengeful man.

A more traditional approach sees him as wise and cruel but just, so this was a departure and an adventurous one which Huggins pulls off.

Eileen Walsh’s elusive Ariel wears a dress which sees layers of the colour spectrum and in reality is no more than a beam of light ... reality is a relative term here.

The set is awash with colour and a tsunami of cast-off shirts completes the effect — they are everywhere, possibly to represent the spirit world. They certainly have the look of a crowd of Caspers.

Tony Bell’s Stephano and Hannah McPake’s Trinculo are a proper comic turn as they stumble on to the island then carry on in a drink-fuddled haze.

Director Phelim McDermott has a stream of ideas to drive the narrative without detracting from it.

The opening is a hoot, with the whole cast lined up by a washing machine. Ariel emerges with a box of the same name washing powder, then a teatowel of a sailing ship is put in and the whole lot is set churning — just like a ship on a storm-tossed sea.

This is a cracking joke created from almost nothing — the text shortly after refers to the freshness of the survivors’ clothes and they all turn up in pristine white ... soap opera, indeed!

And Shakespeare’s annoying habit of cramming the first 15 minutes with exposition is dealt with by having the characters referred to appear as ghostly apparitions as he mentions them — a bit like a PowerPoint display, but with imagination and actors instead of slides.

We all fell in love with Jade Ogugua’s sweet Miranda, who’d never seen a young man before and whose only idea of a woman was from her own mirror-reflection.

And there’s music, lots of it with some lines sung and an entirely fitting and complementary accompaniment from what you imagine is an electronic keyboard but turns out to be an expert using water-filled glasses.

Wacky, weird, wonderful — it would be a shame to miss it.

Until Saturday.

Review: Mike Rowbottom



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