Tempest on Tour

After two weeks, Theatre Editor KIERAN CORCORAN sees The Movement’s production mid-tour. Bigger stage, bigger style, bigger success.

Ben Blyth Gulbenkian Theatre kieran corcoran The Movement the tempest toby parker rees tour

Gulbenkian Theatre – Canterbury, 29th March, 7.45pm, £7-12

Directed by Ben Blyth


After twelve performances The Tempest has ripened in a way most Cambridge shows never get the chance to. Heavy with juice, it dropped into the laps of an eagerly Kentish audience like a big theatrical plum.

With three or four Corpus-Playroom-worths of stage space at their disposal, The Movement had ample room to, well, move – in much more expansive fashion than their opening night. When Trinculo, Caliban and Stephano were falling over each other it was definitely for the lolz rather than because there’s not enough room to swing a fish in Corpus.

And as I just incriminatingly and acronymously acknowledged, The Tempest is a funny play, and not just in the bits when drunk people hit each other. Though the Parker-Rees partnership of Stephano (Leo) and Trinculo (Toby) expertly provided revelrous hilarity, the comedy-crafting of the usually straight-laced courtiers was more commendable because less expected.

A bit of cast-shuffling since the Cambridge run saw director Ben Blyth replace Toby Jones as Sebastian. Paradoxically, Blyth shone as the infinitely dim foil to James Parris’ scathing slimeball Antonio, hilariously failing to keep up with the pace of courtly banter and requiring five separate explanations of ‘stab your brother while he’s sleeping’ before getting the picture. It takes balls to play a Shakespeare character as dim when not absolutely necessary, but for Blyth it works a treat.

Photographs by The Movement from the London Diorama Theatre and Canterbury Gulbenkian peformances

This bravery persists across all aspects of the production. Just as any well-known Shakespeare, over the centuries The Tempest has accumulated its fair share of safe assumptions about its characters and its ‘meaning’. These The Movement’s production scrapes away to leave a darker and more solid core – such a pointed refashioning left some ragged imperfections in its opening performances, but these have since been polished to the high lustre of an obsidian skull.

Prospero (Adam Drew) has grown since his shaky first outing into a disdainful bully who keeps his back to us in favour of frenetically and obsessively consulting his magic-books, effectively debunking any myths of Dumbledoric wizardhood. His occasional set-piece speeches now ring blackly grandiloquent, and the shuffling, off-kilter couplets of his epilogue (cunningly placed after the curtain-call) show less of an impresario desperate for applause than a recluse who wants us to get on with the damn clapping so he can leave.

Likewise Abi Bennett’s Miranda admirably ironises her gerundive (Latin is important, children) by being no more of a moral paragon than any other teenage girl who’s spent her whole life with nobody but her controlling father and a rapey monster for company. The nubile eagerness with which she fawns over the lank curls and teasingly exposed calves of Ferdinand (Rory Attwood) slithers a tendril of lust into a courtship patently less innocent than the RSC would care to admit.

But none of this well-placed subversion detracts from the play’s spectacle, which is all home-grown and overtly ‘theatrical’ à la Babushka and Much Ado About Nothing – continuing the most positive trend in recent Cambridge drama.

This manifests itself in the floor-banging cacophony of the opening storm, the narrated flashback of Prospero’s lengthy exposition, shadow-puppetry and Joe Rubini’s excellent musical accompaniment, either in character as Adrian or as mysterious troubadour haunting the recesses of the stage.

Admittedly this production’s strident interpretation demands much from its watchers, and I imagine some subtleties were lost on the the slow few who spent the interval having character names and plot basics diligently and loudly explained to them, but equally there were children in the audience who seemed to be having a great time – The Movement are very clever but by no means inaccessible.

If you missed the Corpus run, or indeed if you want to see it again done bigger and better, The Movement are county-hopping for another week before the tour finishes. This show has developed into an appropriate flagship for Cambridge drama and deserves its place in professional theatres.

The Movement’s Tempest Tour continues to Exeter (2nd April), the Mumford Theatre in Cambridge (6th-7th April) and Lincoln (9th April). Full details at http://movementtempest.tumblr.com