The Faction Theatre Company
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
The Faction are back at the Brockley Jack with The Tempest. Their trademark innovative approach, and the thirty or so minutes that have been chopped off the text, makes for a proficient and entertaining production.
The text may be cut but the story is undamaged and clearly told: magician Prospero is marooned on a strange island with his daughter Miranda, after being usurped as the Duke of Milan by his brother in cahoots with the King of Naples.
When Prospero discovers a ship carrying his betrayers is passing the island, he conjures up a storm to wreck their ship and bring them to his new kingdom where he is served by Ariel, a spirit who had been imprisoned in a tree and whom he rescued, and Caliban, son of the witch Sycorax who had previously occupied the island.
Once scattered across the island, the castaways are under the control of Prospero who, aided by Ariel, plots and conspires to bring about his chosen resolution for all concerned.
Director Mark Leipacher loses no time in paving the way for this coherent and accessible Tempest by clearly establishing the key players and from Ariel's first entrance we know we are in for an unorthodox construal of Shakespeare's last work.
The idea of Prospero's servant having spirit form and able to take on any physical shape is given a sci-fi twist with a Barbie-like robotic Ariel reminiscent of the Replicants in Blade Runner. This concept of the automaton servant having human emotions is reinforced when Prospero grants Ariel her freedom: not only does this moment express all the complexities of the servant-master relationship but there is almost a passion as he holds her in his arms and her empty body slumps as her spirit flees.
The servitude of Caliban is similarly complex but engenders not a flicker of sympathy as it might if handled differently. His baseness is emphasised here - his attempted rape of Miranda, his hag-witch parentage, the ignobility of the betrayal of his master - all this is more memorable than his mis-treatment by Prospero and his rightful ownership of the island. Perhaps because this Prospero is uncompromising but not overpoweringly malicious.
When it comes to props and set, The Faction exemplify the concept of 'less is more' with the sparseness serving to support and focus attention on the text. For each of their works the set is empty save for one item that is used in different ways to create desired effects: Macbeth had its planks of wood, Twelfth Night had a less successful grand piano and The Tempest has rope.
In this production rope is not only the obvious sign of Caliban's captivity but it is also the bow of the ship sinking in the storm, the wings of the harpie tremulous with suppressed wrath and a symbol of the bonds of service and family. In a play about power its simplicity is truly expressive.
Mark Leipacher keeps his tongue firmly in his cheek for the Act III masque scene when, at Prospero's command Ariel summons spirit-players to mark the nuptials between Miranda and Ferdinand, son of the King of Naples. Set in the bizarrest of discos the nymphs' "country dance" of the text is an evocation of the iconic Saturday Night Fever dance sequence.
Gareth Fordred is outstanding as Prospero. His clear delivery, assertiveness and natural stage presence make his performance captivating. Kate Sawyer gives a strong performance as Ariel and best support comes from Hannah Douglas as Miranda.
This is a strong cast and together with Faction's consistently refreshing and often daring approach makes this a must-see for anyone who thinks Shakespeare is boring.
"The Tempest" runs at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 15 May and then returns next month playing at Brockwell Park from 23 June to 4 July - evening performances Wednesday to Sunday 7.30pm and matinées on Saturday and Sunday at 1pm.
The performance runs for 1 hour and 50 minutes without an interval.
Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti