Thursday 19 July 2012

The Tempest - Greenaway Productions @ Drayton Arms Theatre

The Tempest marks the second part of a Shakespeare double bill performed at the Drayton Arms Theatre this summer season.  What's so remarkable about Shakespeare's work is the range of potential interpretations it generates.  Unlike Twelfth Night which played things safe, director Anna Ostergren took some brave and commendable risks.

The programme promised a "streamlined and darker telling of Shakespeare's last play" and it certainly delivered.  Trimmed to under two hours in length, this was a focused and clear production and with the titular storm merely referenced sonically as the audience entered, we were thrown directly into the drama.

It was the characterisation that most impressed.  Russell Barnett's resonant, sibilant voice was well suited to his Prospero - part imposing magician, part gentle and protective father.  Terry Burns' Caliban was a psychotic monser with a demonic eye, entering the stage whilst banging his head against the wall, though like Gollum there remained an edge of sympathy.  Ariel, played by James French, provided the most interesting interpretation.  In place of an effervescent spirit was a rugged slave who paced the stage with a slow sadness, twitching and ticking as he went.  It was a beautifully played performance, highlighting an almost father-son relationship between him and Prospero.

Amongst the darkness there was no shortage of light humour.  The interplay between Stephano (David Frairs) and Trinculo (Humphrey Hardwick) provided plenty of laughs, though Frairs' acidic and camp modernisms jarred with the other performances.  Elsewhere, Natalie Bray's Miranda was youthful and innocent, her relationship with Sean Pogmore's Ferdinand touchingly played.

As with the reinterpretation of Ariel, the magical elements of the play were subtly presented, referenced in a series of books scattered across the stage and walls like butterfly graffiti.  Quiet music accompanied the spells, though it was an odd mix of strings and electronics.  A more extravagant set and concept may have provided a more exciting sense of atmosphere, but equally would have detracted from, what was, an excellent display of acting.


Watch: The Tempest runs at The Drayton Arms Theatre until 21st July.