The Tempest

This new production of The Tempest enchants LOUIS SHANKAR.

ADC Louis Shankar Shakespeare tempest

ADC Theatre, 7.45 PM, April 6th – 10th, £14/11.

As the curtain rises to reveal the wreckage of a boat dramatically spotlit, while thunder bellows from the speakers, there is something immediately captivating about this performance of The Tempest.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with the play, one of Shakespeare’s last, it tells the story of Prospero and his daughter Miranda, who shipwrecks a ship (unsurprisingly) onto the barren island that he calls home. Its crew, miraculously unharmed, wash up around the island thinking themselves to be alone. As Prospero seeks revenge on the noblemen who wronged him, with the help of the magical Ariel, the drunkards Stephano and Trinculo try to overthrow him, coaxed on by his subhuman slave Caliban. Meanwhile, Miranda finds herself suddenly falling in love with Ferdinand, the son of the King of Naples.

Overall, this production is impressive. Although the first scene was slightly unconvincing, with dialogue lost beneath thunder and lightning and unnecessary torches blinding the audience, it soon picked up and kept an engaging pace. It manages to be visually striking, thanks mostly to the huge ship that fills the rear of the stage, but subtle details – lighting, music, smoke – also help to create a mystical yet convincing atmosphere. The cast is altogether very strong, although neither the King of Naples nor his son Ferdinand seemed to exert any regal dominance. There are some real laughs, especially thanks to Stephano and Trinculo’s drunken antics, complete with overambitious ideas vaguely reminiscent of a wednesday night in Cambridge.

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Prospero – played by  Joey Akubeze – manages to be both hectic and completely in control. He asserts his dominance over Caliban, acts friendly with Ariel, as if they are co-workers, and clearly cares for his daughter. Unfortunately, at times the beauty of Shakespeare’s words was lost; “We are such stuff as dreams are made of…” tumble from Akubeze’s mouth, with little importance given to the poetry.

Mark Milligan’s Ariel often takes centre-stage, though. Perfectly timed comic lines and expressions are balanced with a sense of both duty and desperation. His anachronistic suit – that, annoyingly, is a few sizes too big – makes him stand out, exaggerated by sleek, swift movement and ghoulish green illumination. His few short songs, although very out of tune, seem to work, the dissonance adding to the mystery.

Ferdinand and Miranda’s blossoming relationship, brought alive by Sam Grabiner and Kate Reid, is similarly comedic while also encapsulating a sense of real love. Grabiner also manages to bring an element of slapstick to the childish Ferdinand, playing off the stoic Prospero, although there is an occasional insincerity to his lines.

Although incredibly impressive, I have to admit that I don’t quite get the set. Advertised as ‘the biggest piece of set ever constructed in one piece at the ADC'”, it seemed more like an effort to break records and an excuse to build a huge boat than something that was necessary for the production. Although creatively used at times, acting as a second level of the stage to split the action and assert Prospero or Ariel’s dominance, there are also many moments when you were left questioning why there is a huge boat in the middle of the stage.  ‘They’re meant to be stranded’, I thought to myself, ‘why don’t they patch up that boat and sail away?’

The music that accompanies Ariel and adds drama to Prospero’s magic was hugely effective. Most of all, it is nice to have live performances of original compositions echoing from the wings, which give an intimate, human touch.

Although a few details leave something to be desired, this is, altogether, a stylish and accomplished rendition of one of the Bard’s strangest plays.