Lunchbox Theatrical Productions
Shakespeare's Rose Theatre, York
As director Philip Franks observes in the programme notes, The Tempest is ‘pretty well unclassifiable’ as a piece of drama. Whereas Hamlet is resolutely a tragedy and Twelfth Night is undeniably a comedy, The Tempest contains elements of both—and much more besides.
Widely regarded as Shakespeare’s farewell to the theatre, The Tempest begins with the promise of revenge but ends instead with forgiveness and reconciliation. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that some critics have interpreted this play as the Bard’s final statement on his career.
Shakespeare’s plays are famously malleable, but The Tempest’s exotic setting makes it one of the most obliging to reinterpretation. In 2006, for example, Rupert Goold set his production on an Arctic island and dressed Patrick Stewart’s Prospero in Inuit garb. As Franks’s production must share the same performance space with three other plays, his team aren’t able to wildly transfigure the stage beyond a smashed piano and a fallen tree trunk. Moreover, there’s no way of using technological magic in an Elizabethan-style playhouse.
Thankfully, Franks has chosen to approach these restrictions as opportunities rather than limitations, resulting in a Tempest that is full of joy, exuberance and magic. You don’t need fancy projections to create a harpy when two wings and an oversized skull will work just as well!
Arguably the most striking aspect of the production is its use of a six-strong band of spirits who, whilst dressed in steampunk attire à la Mad Max (excellent costumes from Adrian Linford), carry out their master's bidding. They physically embody the magic of the island, enacting the storm that brings their master’s enemies to the island, and their collective presence is a constant source of delight.
There are no weak links in this sterling cast. Prospero is often played as a sage philosopher, but Sam Callis offers us a tougher, more combative interpretation of the character; his anger is palpable, not least in the way he torments his magical servants. By the end of the play, however, he convinces us that he has managed to forgive the wrongs that have been done to him.
Leander Deeny excels as Ariel, Prospero’s magical lieutenant, capturing the character’s ethereal quality through his impressive physicality. He manages to convey the character’s anger and melancholy at being coerced into service, but also the delight he takes in toying with Prospero’s human prisoners.
Maggie Bain is sleek and dangerous as Prospero’s usurping sister Antonia, leading us to question how long Prospero will last long when he returns to Milan. In stark contrast, Flo Wilson is the epitome of warmth as Gonzala, the noblewoman who ensured the survival of Prospero and his daughter when they were cast out to sea. Niall Costigan effectively conveys King Alonso’s distress over his long-lost son, and Paul Sockett is suitably treacherous and dim-witted as the monarch’s scheming brother, Sebastian.
Christopher Logan and Peter Moreton give lively comic turns as Trinculo and Stephano, forming a strong double-act. There is also excellent work from Raphael Bushay, who manages to capture the paradoxical nature of Caliban. On the one hand he is a comic grotesque, on the other he is an eloquent critic of Prospero’s despotic cruelty.
Miranda and Ferdinand, the play’s young lovers, are charmingly played by Alexandra Guelff and Alexander Knox, and their burgeoning romance is a joy to behold.
I thoroughly enjoyed this staging of The Tempest and would be curious to see it again later on in its run.
Reviewer: James Ballands