The Tempest review: ‘too rough around the edges’

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With its storms, monsters, and magical spirits, The Tempest is certainly an ambitious choice for student Shakespeare. And given that this production takes place in the modest venue of Fountains Hall, with a very sparse set, the entire burden of the play rests upon the shoulders of the cast. Many actors absolutely flourished under this pressure, with masterful grasps of the language and inventive physicality. But due to a combination of nerves, technical issues and some questionable acting, this production of Shakespeare’s classic play was a bit too rough around the edges.

In the programme, director Josie Williams says it was the beauty of The Tempest’s language that drew her to the play. Unfortunately, the Shakespearean in fact tripped up many of the actors. Some nervously rushed through their lines, clearly having little idea what they meant, while others went to the opposite extreme, enunciating every syllable flamboyantly. Furthermore, many scenes of intimacy, like the exchanges between Miranda (Katie O’Toole), her father Prospero (Jake Goldman) and her lover Ferdinand (Alex Dickson), were largely wooden, because the actors struggled to grasp the emotional roots of their lines.

Honor Webb’s portrayal of Ariel is very subtle: she calmly and elegantly drifts about, a smirk gracing her face. I’m unsure whether this works. In more traditional interpretations, Ariel leaps across the stage mischievously, more creature than human, and fuels the play’s progression with her energy. Without this vibrancy from Prospero’s servant, some scenes fall flat.

Nevertheless, there are many occasions on which Williams’ directorial flair reveals itself. She seems to be well aware of her cast’s strengths, and exploits them fully. This is seen most notably in the interactions between Antonio (Jake Hathaway) and Sebastian (Rebecca Cadman). This pair have fantastic chemistry, bouncing off each other effortlessly and embodying a convincing brand of ultra-posh machismo.

Coco Collard was the perfect choice for the drunk Trinculo, who must be commended for throwing all her energy into both her lines and her intoxicated stumbles. And Qasim Salam is magnetic as Caliban. He shifts masterfully from animalistic shouting to an ominously quiet mutter, and conveys many facets of the monster’s character, from foolish clown to vulnerable slave, evoking both laughter and sympathy from the audience.

Unfortunately, there were many technical and timing issues which distracted from the cast’s talents. First night nerves provoked a few stumbles with the script, and in the final scene, there was a very long, painful pause when someone forgot a line. Often the staging felt stiff and static. Scene changes could have been slicker, and the entire production started late for technical reasons. It is perhaps harsh to point out these minor issues, but given the extremely high standard of student theatre at Durham, this production was lacking in professionalism.

Despite all of this, however, if you are equipped with a good imagination and an inclination for Shakespeare’s linguistic brilliance, you will certainly have an enjoyable evening. Thanks to the standout performances of many members of the cast, The Tempest’s smaller faults are redeemed.

‘The Tempest’ will be performed until Sat 5 Dec at Fountains Hall, Grey College. Book your tickets here.

Photograph: Josie Williams

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