By Carmel Shortall
If not already familiar to you, the plot of The Tempest is a straightforward one. Twelve years previously, Prospero duke of Milan, after neglecting his duties as duke – being “rapt in secret studies” of sorcery – has been supplanted by his brother Antonio, with the aid of the King of Naples. Cast adrift in “a rotten carcass of a boat,” he came to a magical island with his infant daughter Miranda.
And now, years later, returning by ship from the wedding of the King of Milan’s daughter, by chance, all the players in his downfall have fallen into Prospero’s hands. At his command, Ariel, a spirit, raises a sea-storm to separate the king’s ship from the fleet and bring it close to shore; where, abandoning it, they have been separated and dispersed about the island.
As well as Ariel, Prospero also commands Caliban – son of the witch Sycorax who previously ruled the isle – who is as earthbound and mis-shapen as Ariel is light and airy. Like a playwright, Prospero proceeds to orchestrate the fates of all on the island before casting off his magical robes for good.
The gothic look of the play is not overstated but Velenzia Spearpoint’s portrayal of Miranda as a wild and fey child of art and of nature – all dramatic eye make-up, puffy hair and yards of camisole and white lace – is inspired. As you might expect from Get Over It Productions (in their ninth Camden Fringe appearance), the cast are excellent.
Sheetal Kapoor, in particular, gives a mischievous, subtly physical and unearthly performance as Ariel, her long elegant arms always moving and swaying, as insubstantial as air. Tori Louis is a hugely enjoyable Caliban, earthy and disgusting, keeping low to the ground and occasionally substituting the ukulele for a “thousand twangling instruments.”
The success of the Trinculo/Stephano double act is an essential part of any production of The Tempest and Telma Rocha’s clowning as Trinculo the jester, as well Catherine Higgins’ shenanigans as Stephano the drunken butler do not disappoint as they lurch around trying to take over the island with Caliban’s help.
The king’s son – and Miranda’s romantic interest – Ferdinand, is usually played sympathetically but Sassy Clyde’s pompous, sub-Hugh Grant ‘posho’ is comic genius while Cindy Evans, as the father who believes him dead, makes a tragic and dignified Alonso.
Joan Potter’s portrayal of honest buffoon Gonzalo is note-perfect while Rhiannon Kelly and Kristy Bruce’s bating of the silly old fool, as cynical conspirators Sebastian and Antonio, almost renders them sympathetic.
Finally, Paula Benson as Prospero (and Director) commands the stage, always in control but with an occasional twinkle as when, at the end of the play, Caliban gets a chance to play the ukulele. “You don’t get this at the RSC!” No, indeed, we don’t.
Quite simply the best production of the Tempest I’ve ever seen – certainly the most fun. The ‘Only Way is Essex’ style corrollary of Juno, Ceres and Iris is hysterical. The cast enjoy themselves immensely as do the audience. Just wonderful!