DramaNorth WestReview

The Tempest – Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, Chester

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Alex Clifton

Reviewer: Emma Boswell

The Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre returns this summer, converted into a magical island in its staging of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  Directed by the very talented artistic director of Storyhouse (and Cestrian) Alex Clifton, The Tempest explores the story of Prospero; the usurped Duke (or Duchess, in this production) of Milan, on his quest for revenge and plot to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful position.

The setting and in the round staging for this production feels close to perfect – outdoors, on a warm summer’s evening and surrounded by nature, it is difficult not to feel transported to the island and enveloped into Prospero’s magic circle as the production reaches its climax.  As is typical of this venue, the staging and production is kept simple, yet highly effective.  There are no electrical, synthetic effects to conjure up the tempest; the audience are left to imagine this themselves with the expert help of Andrew Patteron’s lighting; Matthew Hutchinson’s puppetry, Jennifer Fletcher’s choreography and Barbara Hockaday’s musical direction.   The wonderful physicality in the most dramatic scenes, the use of woodwind instruments and the consistently excellent synchronicity of the young community chorus create the storm in the minds of the audience.

The production keeps true to the original play where it matters but does not shy away from experimenting with a modern twist.  Gender roles are switched; bringing female leads in Prospero (Catherine Cusack) and Caliban (Claudia Grant).  The stage is scattered with a dichotomy of props and costumes: old, torn ragged clothing, branches and twigs intertwined with 21stcentury cabin luggage, shattered laptops and model aeroplanes flying across the stage. The humour and music also bring a combination of old and new; with the original songs from the play mixed in with modern day tunes and 21stcentury references.

The cast are extremely strong and do not fail to deliver throughout.  This is particularly impressive as the majority of the cast are involved in all three performances over this season; with many holding two or three main roles concurrently.  Particular mentions must include; Alex Mugnaioni’s Stefano and Mitesh Soni’s Trinculo, who work wonderfully as a duo to bring the laughs to the production. Mugnaioni’s comic timing as the drunk, bumbling Stefano and Soni’s drag-act Trinculo are a joy to watch; with just the right amount of audience interaction to keep the crowd on their toes. Grant’s Caliban is also a highlight; a heartfelt and believable portrayal of an angry character wronged and robbed of what is hers.

Lucy Keirl’s portrayal of Ariel is equally effective; bringing an eerie, supernatural presence in her scenes and capturing the essence of a quiet, ghostly character, somehow simultaneously holding attention whilst sinking into the background.   The on-stage chemistry between Miranda (Aryana Ramkhalawon) and Ferdinand (Callum McIntryre) is another highlight; with their beautiful courting scene, full of music, energy and white birds flying overhead, being one of the most memorable and engaging scenes in the production.

Clifton’s claim in the programme for this season of productions is that ‘sitting in a circle, listening to stories together, sharing food and drink under the open skies, is a summer well spent’ and this really rings true after watching this show. This is a high quality, superbly cast version of one of Shakespeare’s most loved and respected plays and is certainly one not to miss.

Runs in Rep until 26 August 2018 | Image: Contributed

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  1. Excellent review. Completely agree with all comments – it is an excellent production, as I’ve come to expect from the Storyhouse. Glad that the comic double act of Alex Mugnaioni and Mitesh Soni got a mention, it was played beautifully – and reined back appropriately when other actors were on stage at the same time and the focus of attention.

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