DramaLondonReviewShakespeare

The Tempest – St Paul’s Covent Garden

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Daniel Winder

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Working outside, without much of the mechanics and tools of a playhouse at their disposal, it’s entirely to their credit that Iris theatre have created a little bit of magic in the garden of St Paul’s.

The Tempest is the yearly Shakespeare production for the company, filling the rose garden with conjuring and sweet words, and the church’s nave with wonder and power.

An outing for Shakespeare’s mystic interests, the play charts three hours in near real-time on an isolated mediterranean island. Beginning from when Prospero (former/rightful Duke of Milan) creates a storm to shipwreck the King of Naples’ ship, to the conclusion when all are reconciled and Prospero’s daughter is engaged to the Prince. Focusing on Prospero as a study into philosophy of morals and personal accountability, the play also entertains with a few sub-plots following the paths of two groups of people – one being the King, his brother, and Prospero’s brother, and the other being the court jester, the butler and Prospero’s captive slave Caliban.

Ruminating on the nature of his power and his life on the island (where he landed after being banished by his brother who usurped his dukedom with the support of the King of Naples) Prospero gives the main heft of the play. Weighing up revenge, ambition, regret and magical ability he gives the appearance of strength His actions to exert revenge on the usurper and the King show a different side – complex magical revenge plots are quickly abandoned with regret. Jamie Newall gives a great performance as the reflective, majestic man here and Charlotte Christensen as Ariel, a spirit bound to his service, is a sprightly and intriguing accompaniment. Backed up by some very entertaining playing the rest of the cast – highlights being Paul Brendan as the clown Trinculo (and the King) and an excellent performance by Prince Plocky as an angry Caliban and scheming Antonio – the two and a half hour run-time flies by.

There’s some uncomfortable colonialist undertones through the whole play, most notably the relationship Prospero has with his servants. His “freeing” and subsequent personal enslavement of the island’s only native inhabitants (Ariel and Caliban), his rage when they request freedom, reverb loudly with sounds and words of racism and violent conquest. It’s a play written for a 17th-century audience, and presented here it’s jarring but handled well.

Surrounding all of this, a fantastic set from Mike Leopold which bridges magic and an island home, and an atmospheric sound design from Filipe Gomes which turns the enclosed garden into a near-tropical enclave.

Directed by Daniel Winder, this is a solid addition to Iris’ summer series. At times, the push for magic seems more theatrical than plausible and the costumes feel a little uncoordinated, but the production generates such goodwill and charm it’s easily overlooked.

Runs until 28 July | Image: Nick Rutter.

 

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