After a successful run in November 2018, Suffragette and Sightline’s production of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ returned on June 26th 2019 for a single evening, this time with a new venue (the Gala Theatre) and a slightly tweaked cast.
The biggest difference between the 2018 and 2019 renderings of ‘The Tempest’ was the casting of Prospero. Whilst the production’s former incarnation cast a female (Florence Petrie) as ‘Prospera’, the new cast contained a more traditional male Prospero (Harry Twining) which detracted somewhat from the production’s initial thought-provoking casting. However, Twining provided, on the whole, a solid (if slightly unemotional) performance as Prospero. The casting of a female Caliban remained an interesting decision, although there appeared to be some discrepancies in the pronouns which the cast used to describe Caliban, leading to a general impression of a somewhat divided cast, where basic creative decisions did not seem to have been fully agreed upon.
A casting decision which did not work very well was splitting the character of Ariel into three parts (played by Aranav Sharma, Lucy Little and Helena Baker). There appeared no real creative reason for casting three Ariels, and the way in which Ariel’s lines were divided stunted the narrative pace of the play. Visually, the three Ariels and their accompanying ensemble of spirits were very impressive, with their colourful costumes and makeup, as was the set in general. Particularly in the Gala Theatre, an image captured at any given moment in the play would have looked incredibly professional. However, in motion, the ensemble’s physical theatre was not very impressive: the movements often appeared awkward with a flavour of GCSE drama class. The ever-present ensemble’s whimsical arm movements were uninspired and often distracted from the action in the forefront of the scene. The casting in other areas of the play, however, was spot-on: Aaron Rozanski was the ‘classically handsome’ Ferdinand opposite Molly Goetzee’s suitably sweet and naive Miranda. However, whilst the production captured the comedy of the shallowness of Ferdinand and Miranda’s love-at-first-sight romance, there was a lack of romantic chemistry between Rozanski and Goetzee, even in later scenes which developed their romance.
The characters of Trinculo and Stephano are present in Shakespeare’s play as the comic relief in an otherwise fairly un-comedic play (‘The Tempest’ is often classified as a ‘romance’ rather than a straight-up ‘comedy’). However, rather than letting Shakespeare’s words do the work, Ed Rees and Alex Ottie, as Trinculo and Stephano, resorted to slapstick comedy and overacting. There is comedy to be found in the characters’ perpetual drunkenness, but stumbling around and shouting a lot, as Rees and Ottie did, are a rather poor substitute for Shakespeare’s humour. After Trinculo and Stephano’s plot to murder Prospero is discovered, Rees sunk down to his knees and comically ripped his shirt open in remorse. Before Rees’ knees had fully hit the ground, however, he was upstaged by Ottie, whose premature and over-the-top shirt-ripping had the effect, not of adding to the comedy, but of stealing the limelight from Rees. In general, Ottie’s attempts at comedy came across as self-indulgent. It did not seem to be particularly choreographed or controlled – rather, it seemed that Ottie and, to a lesser extent, Rees, were merely enacting whatever action came into their head rather than performing a rehearsed and polished play, and seemed more preoccupied with making each-other laugh than with performing to the audience.
Despite the production’s flaws, Sightline and Suffragette’s ‘The Tempest’ was an ambitious production. Even though some creative decisions were unsuccessful, the production should be commended for its brave experimentation. After first being performed in Hild Bede chapel, the cast had no problem in taking to the larger stage of the Gala Theatre – from the ensemble dance numbers to the live band, it was a thoroughly epic affair.