Tuesday, 8 August 2006

The Tempest, Bell Shakespeare, Aug 8, 06

The  Tempest by William Shakespeare
Bell Shakespeare

Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, Aug 8 to Aug 19, 2006
6.30pm Mon, 7.30pm Tues to Sat

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 8, 2006

The Tempest, Shakespeare’s final play, can be problematic to stage. It mixes genres, incorporating elements of comedy, romances and his political plays.

It begins with Prospero’s (John Bell) plan for revenge, a history of royal usurpation, a shipwreck, a plot to assassinate the King, another to kill Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan who now reigns over a deserted island. It ends with reunion, reinstatement and a marriage. In between are slapstick, drunkenness, magic, romance, music, a banquet and a masque.

Peter Evans’ production is set on a confined stage resembling a room wallpapered with images of a densely wooded forest (Robert Kemp). It opens with an effective storm scene on Alonso (Paul Bertram), the King of Naples’ ship. As the ship sinks, the passengers shout in panic through high portholes.

The forest creates depth and the contracted stage space reflects the confines of the island. However, the actors still rattle about uncomfortably in the small space. Many scenes are performed in a deliberately static, stand and deliver style, particularly those between the royal party.

Alonso’s grief leaves him almost inanimate, Sebastian (Andrew McDonnell) and Antonio’s (David Whitney) murderous subterfuge is tepid and Gonzalo’s (Ron Haddrick) concern sounds like preaching.

The interpretation lacks the magic and illusion intrinsic to the play. The production lacks resonance and imagination and Shakespeare’s rich dialogue often has no dynamic energy.

The scenes between the drunken Stephano, (Tony Taylor), the jester, Trinculo, (James Wardlaw) and Caliban, Prospero‘s slave (Nathan Lovejoy) begin with energy but the comic business becomes repetitive. Lovejoy, playing Caliban as a scruffy, awkward adolescent with a Mohawk, has little of the grotesque or dangerous.

The strongest scenes are those with Prospero and his daughter, Miranda (Freya Stafford). Bell brings Shakespeare’s text to life, balancing gravitas and humour in Prospero, giving him a fragile humanity that counterpoints his power. Stafford gives Miranda life with a delicate childlikeness.

Less successful are the scenes between Miranda and Ferdinand (Stephen Phillips) perhaps because Phillips is often left gaping at magical illusions wrought for Ferdinand’s benefit.

Which brings us to the magic of the island. Saskia Smith, as Ariel, Prospero’s airy spirit slave who awaits his freedom, is certainly ethereal in appearance and much of Ariels’ magical quality relies on her singing. 

But the illusions are invisible, the music (Basil Hogios) a little too stereotypically spooky and the stage too domestic to transport us into the world of the magical isle.

By Kate Herbert

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