DramaReviewSouth West

The Tempest – St John on the Wall’s Crypt, Bristol

Writer: William Shakespeare

Adapted by: Hannah Drake, Justin Palmer, and Ellie Showering

Director: Hannah Drake

Designer: Sarah Warren

Composer: Ellie Showering

Lighting: Edmund McKay

Reviewer: Leah Tozer

‘Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,’ a muddling, older man murmurs to us, collected in a crypt beneath a Medieval church in the centre of Bristol as cars and buses and bits of lost conversation rumble along beyond the low door closed behind us. ‘The isle was full of noises,’ he amends, and with that opening amendment in tense alone, Insane Root Theatre have respectfully but perfectly repurposed The Tempest, Shakespeare’s most philosophical, most reflective, and most indefinite play.

The man, aged and inelegant, is Prospero, but this is the usurped ‘prince of power’ without his power; this is Prospero at the end of the play, or rather, many-a-year after the revels of the play and the epilogue’s applause has ended. Alone in his library, a homely, hearth-like creation from Sarah Warren covered in drapes and decorated with books and bric-a-brac, Chris Donnelly’s Prospero is close to the end, and not just because he’s been placed in a crypt.

The crypt, carved and cavernous, is the corporeal and acoustic setting for Prospero’s recount of what happened to him, and he recreates the characters with some well-repurposed household trinkets: the noble Alonso a stoic statue, the drunken jesters a jingling bell and bottle of liquor, and his adored daughter Miranda a ragdoll, all played out poignantly on a central, sand-covered, island-like chessboard. Shakespeare’s Prospero was a powerful sorcerer, and there are whispers of his old powers as Donnelly conjures the story for us from empty space, but come the tender and entendre-filled final speech, it’s clear that his charms really are o’erthrown now. 

Prospero doesn’t play out his past alone, but with the help of the hypnotic, haunting, a cappella chorus of Norma Butikofer, Helen Cockill and composer Ellie Showering. They dance between the body and spirit of Prospero’s dependents; the ethereal Ariel a blue light bounding between them all, Caliban a trifecta of fencing masks, moving like the creature ‘not honour’d with a human shape’ that Shakespeare describes. Yet, they are also the choral echoes of Shakespeare’s text, which has been twisted and turned and truncated but is more poetic and expressive than ever, especially in the repeated lament lifted from the shipwrecked Ferdinand, ‘hell is empty and all the devils are here’.

Insane Root Theatre’s The Tempest balances Shakespearean tradition with exceptional adaptation, and through repurposing the text, the temporality, and the tone, the cast and creatives get closer to the heart of the play than any production of The Tempest this reviewer has seen, and it’s all happening right beneath the heart of Bristol.

Runs until 24th December 2017 | Image: Craig Fuller

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Respectfully and perfectly repurposed

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The Reviews Hub - South West

The Southwest team is under the editorship of Holly Spanner. 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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