"Thoughtful, fearless and risk-taking Tempest"
by Rachel Knightley for remotegoat on 28/06/18

Stuart Watson’s production approaches its text with affection, intelligence and curiosity. Combining Day of the Dead carnivalistic imagery with an island whose inhabitants are Prospero’s literal puppets, this is healthily experimental theatre: exploration of meaning, intonation, cross-casting and character relationships within the intention of serving the play. Not every choice pays off: set, props and puppetry sometimes fight with action and pace suffers for it, but heart never does.

The pre-sexual romance of Miranda and Ferdinand is a surprising highlight. As Ferdinand, Merete Wells appears effortlessly at home on the island (a somewhat awkward traverse, hemmed in by two structural rocks which often work as rocky perches and platforms but with entrances and exits) and brings Sophia Papadopolous’s Miranda to sparkling life. Ferdinand is not the only successful gender cross-casting: Sadia Gordon and Emma Miles bring admirable depth and strength to Trincula and Stephanie. Jerome Joseph Kennedy is a touchingly ignorant, rather than remotely evil, Caliban: an unusual and assured interpretation for which Kennedy and Watson have found ample evidence in the text.

Sadly, there are aspects of disparity between puppetry and action: a gorgeously haunting fluorescent-eyed Ariel (performed with consistent and touching sincerity by Molly Clery and Emma Fleming) dwarves a model ship sailing over a sheet on an ocean a shipwreck scene so clear and strong it would be callous to blame the actors for losing us in the actual shipwreck scene that becomes murky and overlong and by contrast, particularly as we feel we’ve already had the shipwreck. There are also moments of disparity between the meaning the director or company has found in the text and the actors’ conveying of it, making the distance between the action and the word sometime too great to hold water (sorry). But, more importantly, there are also moments of exquisite humour and emotional depth, particularly during the second act with Prospero (Matthew Flexman) taking leave of Ariel knowing he must watch him scatter himself to the winds and no longer exist in his physical form.

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