DramaLondonReview

The Tempest – Jermyn Street Theatre, London

Director: Tom Littler

Reviewer: Mike Wells

The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s later plays, agreed upon by many to be the last he wrote alone. It is a comedy in a very similar vein to Midsummer Night’s Dream, but with a darker undercurrent. In particular, the dark side of colonialism, the effects of which are still felt today.

It grapples between justice and injustice, and man versus monster. In this incarnation though, the most striking juxtaposition is within Prospero himself. At times he’s an omnipotent orchestrator, but at others he’s achingly vulnerable, and this is when he’s at his most interesting. There is a great weight which presides over all he does. Michael Pennington’s portrayal displays all this with a beautiful subtlety. He plays the imposing sorcerer with aplomb, but also allows the character’s weaknesses to shine through in heart-breaking fashion.

Kirsty Bushell plays his daughter with real warmth. Her Miranda is the perfect combination of forthright and naïve. Meanwhile the Puck-ish Ariel (Whitney Kehinde) has a wonderful energy. Enchanting at every turn, she thrives in the role of master meddler, singing and dancing as she does so.

Several of the cast double-up playing two characters a piece and in every case they are excellent (Tam Williams as Caliban and Ferdinand, Peter Bramhill as Sebastian and Trinculo, and Richard Derrington as Antonio and Stephano). They transition between their two characters, often at short notice, with great dexterity.

As an ensemble the cast work very well together, which is testament to Tom Littler’s direction. There is an intensity to the piece from start to finish. It’s pacey and energetic, though it still manages to give the text room to breathe, which is so important for Shakespearean comedy.

Designers Neil Irish and Anett Black offer simple but striking visuals. The walls in particular are very well constructed; an assortment of washed-up trinkets perch on driftwood shelves, which ebb and flow like tempestuous waves. The costumes too are thoughtfully put together and serve the characters well.

The sound and lighting designs are equally good (William Reynolds and Max Pappenheim respectively). At times it’s rather bold, but always complements the action sympathetically.

In a small space (though perfectly formed) such as Jermyn Street, the show is wonderfully intimate. After this run the it transfers to the Theatre Royal in Bath, a far larger space, and it will be interesting to see whether it retains this intimate feel. It’s almost certain it will.

Reviewed on 13 March 2020

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