Tempest – Pleasance, London

Reviewer: Kane Taylor

Adaptator and Lyrics: James Meteyard

Composer: Jasmine Morris

Director: James Meteyard

Architects of the Edinburgh Fringe’s critically acclaimed Electrolyte, Wildcard Theatre takes on the bard himself. Teeming with fresh life, James Meteyard’s gig-theatre Tempestis an adaptation that pulls at and plays with the original text in myriad ways, threading fresh modes of storytelling throughout that feel like authentic extensions of the work.

Whether in Jasmine Morris’ wonderfully organic compositions, moments of aerial choreography or the impressively diverse actor-musicianship on display spectacle is an integral part of this production. Constantly seeking another way to excite and stimulate visually — and aurally —Tempestcrafts a replete tapestry through its ever-changing offer of form. It is clear to see that immersion and sensation are fore-fronted in all technical aspects of the production. Sherry Coenen’s lighting design is a sensory feast that, while at times overwhelming, brings a welcome night-clubbish temperament to pierce the perceived stuffiness of Shakespeare’s centuries-old work. Ariel’s (Loren O’Dair) echoed voices and the eerie ambience crafted by Daniel Balfour serve the play well, despite some balance issues, and the dynamically and intricately adorned bohemian design by Luke W. Robson gives the production space to breathe and flow.

Even in the face of its spectacle, however, Tempestdoes not discard the more emotive and raw moments of Shakespeare’s work. If anything, situating itself in this contemporary aesthetic makes it more accessible and adds new shades of meaning that draw out the universality of Shakespeare’s text. The Tempest tells the tale of Prospero (Kate Littlewood), once Duke of Milan stranded on an island with his daughter Miranda (Ruby Crepin-Glyne). Gigi Zahir and Eleanor House’s comedic asides as Trinculo and Stephano, playing with the boundaries of the play’s world, or Gonzalo’s (Robert Meteyard) contemplations on utopia, in particular, both feel wonderfully playful and ‘authentic’ in a way that challenges notions of what it means to be faithful to the original work and ‘do Shakespeare’.

There can be no doubt that its original compositions by Morris are one of its principal artistic strengths, though its self-defined gig-theatre style drifts into the realms and conventions of musical theatre. While the distinction may seem academic, the series of technical, artistic, and generic expectations that this change in genre entails undermines Tempest’s enchantingly chaotic charm, leaving the audience feeling that the performer’s ability to tell the story is compromised — suddenly out of its depth where songs sit behind the fourth wall in the production’s more tender moments. For a show with such an extensive list of cast and creatives, it seems amiss not to have a musical director to rudder the ship, and this absence is felt on stage.

An artistic endeavour of this breadth and scope is a demanding task, but it is one that is for the most part is carried through to fruition in Tempest. With an outstanding array of talents on display from its cast and band, alongside a resplendent sensory feast, this is a refreshingly accessible adaption that almost manages to bite off as much as it can chew.

Runs until 3 April 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Entrancingly chaotic

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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