The Guildford Shakespeare Company
University of Surrey Lake, Guildford
This company find the most idyllic setting for their productions and this is the most beautiful of all, and very appropriate for a play which begins with a shipwreck. Surprisingly after weeks of drought the skies were cloudy and threatening rain, and as the spirit Ariel invoked a mystical storm, the thunder crashed, the magician Prospero beat his drum, and there were a few anxious glances to the heavens.
This is not quite Prosperos dainty or delicate Ariel, the ethereal tricksy spirit expected, but perhaps Irishman Caolan Byrne is more in the style of a Leprechaun. A very fine actor with his speeches well paced and expressive, his voice almost breaking when pleading for his liberty - Remember I have done thee worthy service - but this is a despondent Ariel and his moments of silent watchfulness are not totally convincing. To be fair, he was often meant to be invisible, but this was not always apparent.
Director Hannah Chissick keeps the actors constantly on the move with many a saunter around the circumference of the large lake to surprise us when they finally appear through the trees or from under the weeping willows, yet sometimes has them transfixed in statuesque immobility, the victims of magic, something they manage perfectly, hardly even a blink among them.
This company like their productions to be fun, and Chissick makes the most of the humorous aspects with the excellent Stephen Darcy as the comical drunken butler and Matt Pinches hard-working hilarious Tricolo keeping the audience laughing as they introduce Caliban to the fiery liquor. These two also double up as Alonso, King of Naples and his brother Sebastian, involving some very quick changes of clothes and, on the subject of costume, the theme is Victorian but I wonder why magician Prospero is the only one in rags - just a thought.
I have always felt sympathy for Caliban. It was his island after all before Prospero made him a slave and Rikki Chamberlain gives him some pathos as well as the savagery. A very fit and surprisingly agile Caliban, he shows resentment, anger and bewilderment at his unfair treatment and, although there was virtually no rain, he was constantly being drenched.
Prospero is a powerfully proclaiming Bill Ward (formerly Charlie Stubbs in Coronation Street) and his daughter is recent graduate Leonie Heath who was impish and playful as Moth in Loves Labours Lost a few weeks ago and now enchants with a demure and innocent Miranda, eyes wide with wonder and delight at her first sight of a young man, Ferdinand (the handsome Jack Brear).
The play goes with a swing with plenty of surprises along the way - not least the large, illuminated paper boat sailing across the lake to the astonishment of a family of ducks about to settle down for the night.
There could not be a more perfect setting for this tempestuous play or a more beautiful and romantic ending. The two young lovers are silhouetted against the darkness of the lake and trees as the action proceeds in front of them then, still standing, they drift off on a raft across the lake as the lights fade. A scene which will stay in my mind for a very long time - superb!
Playing until 7th August
Tickets and details on www.guildford-shakespeare-company.co.uk
Reviewer: Sheila Connor