Review of ‘The Tempest’ by City Lit Theatre Company

‘Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,

Sounds, and sweet airs, that give

delight and hurt not.’

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On Thursday 30th June I had the pleasure of attending the opening night of The Tempest by William Shakespeare, performed by City Lit Theatre Company. The production was directed by Petina Hapgood, long term director at The City Lit and guest director at the Courtyard and other theatre companies. Assistant director and musical director was Claire Temple. The Tempest is regarded by many as Shakespeare’s last play and is one that holds dear to Aristotle’s unities of time, place and action, the story unfolding on a magical island in real time with one main plot. Many have drawn parallels between Prospero, the magician, and Shakespeare himself. At the end of the play Prospero breaks his magic staff and throws his magic books into the sea. As this is probably Shakespeare’s last play, it may or may not signify the end of Shakespeare’s own career as a playwright.

It was the perfect antidote to the Brexit Blues, if not somewhat surreal as I had trod those very boards myself only a week ago as the character of Paul/Picasso in Jason Riddington’s production of Saltimbanques. But I knew I was in for a real treat before the play had even started as I took my seat and heard a cacophony of animal noises and witnessed animal-like movement and interaction from the company of players already on stage. It was not long before I, along with the other members of the audience, were transported to that pivotal scene on board the ship that is battling against the elements. Working as an ensemble, the actors created the shipwreck scene with just a piece of rope and  carefully choreographed physical movement. A truly believable illusion and theatre at its best!

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Zoe Bond as a female Caliban

 

One of the strengths of the piece for me was the inclusion of dance, ritualistic movement, song and original music throughout the play. These were no mere interludes. This is a play about magic and illusion, and the fact that all these elements were interwoven so strongly both charmed and enchanted. The use of stagecraft was another strength, with characters  appearing in amongst the audience and at one point, from the entrance to the theatre itself.

On the whole, the performances were strong and engaging. This particular production has taken a fresh approach to casting as both the lead, Prospero (aka Prospera) Caliban, and other traditional male parts are played by female cast members. And why not? I think it’s so important to reinvent the classics lest they become museum pieces! Prospera, the magician and duchess, who had been treacherously usurped from her rightful position in
Milan, was played by esteemed actress Robyn Moore. Robyn has played numerous roles on both TV and theatre and did not disappoint in this production where she gave an emotionally truthful and nuanced performance as Prospera. Ms Moore brought out the multifaceted aspects of her character. You saw, in turn, the protective mother, the vengeful duchess and the magician enraptured by the secret arts. But there was no doubt in my mind that she was a benevolent force. There was also something of the pagan about her costume, with it’s pheasant feathers and rustic colours and patterns. And the relationship between her and Ariel, the fairy spirit, was a delight to behold. There was a real intimate connection between the two even though Ariel really is her slave and does her bidding.

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Raymond Charles as Ariel

 

Raymond Charles’ performance as Ariel was energetic and often electrifying. Both physically and vocally, his performance reflected his otherworldy, supernatural status, and he got the balance between, in part, enjoying doing Prospera’s bidding and serving her, yet also yearning for his own freedom, spot on. Scarlett Barrett gave an emotionally engaging performance as Prospera’s daughter, Miranda, and Zoe Bond drew pathos and delight in equal measure in her portrayal of Caliban. It was good to see both Emma Wilkinson-Wright, as the usurping and traitorous Antonia, and Daniel Paul as the equally traitorous Sebastian, both of whom had appeared in Vernon Thomson’s production of Alan Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings in December last year. Vittorio Parri cut a very dashing figure as Ferdinand and his use of comic timing was used to great effect. Well done too to all cast members and to Cynon Lewis who was excellent as Francisco and the Boatswain.

The Tempest is on at The John Lyon theatre, City Lit in Holborn from 30th June until 2nd June and is then transferring to St. Giles-In-The-Fields Church from  5th July until 9th July. Tickets are available from Eventbrite. (Click the link)

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Robyn Moore as Prospera alongside Emma Wilkinson-Wright as Antonia and Chris Savage as Queen Alonsa

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