CAST 2018: The Tempest Review
A whirlwind voyage – 4/5 Stars
Essentially the pitch for this review is very simple: if you like Shakespeare, you'll love this and you should go. I could honestly end my review there – this was among the best student Shakespeare productions I've seen.
Beyond that, however, the question gets a little trickier. I'm completely on the fence about whether to recommend this show to people that aren't very familiar with Shakespeare or the Tempest in particular. The reason for that is that the performance puts very little effort into talking the audience through what's going on. I was completely lost on the plot, or indeed who anybody was until about 25 minutes from the end. At one point I had to ask my Engling friend I was sitting with if they were still on a boat or not. "It crashed," she replied, shaking her head with disappointment.
I suppose the problem is – how do you do Shakespeare? Any effort to try and do Shakespearean dialogue in a natural, conversational way inevitably ends up sounding a bit like a 6/10 entry at a poetry slam. After all, it's very difficult to imagine any Shakespeare character having a normal conversation at all, so immaculately skilled are they all with words. The other option is to slow things right down and perform the lines as if delivering a Ted talk or selling a timeshare – which itself also feels a bit weird and very, very long. CAST plumps heavily for the former option, accepting that dialogue is constantly going to get lost and instead creating a collage of meaning through ballet-like dance and, above-all, sound.
There is a constant background noise of water – the sea, a storm, a river – pulling the audience into the idea that we're on some sort of boundary between sea and land; magic and reality; the old and new world. And those boundaries are central to the play. At some points it all gets a bit ASMR and you wonder if you're listening to a sleep cassette. There are also many moments of music – haunting acapella solo renditions of folk songs, dissonant harmonic chanting and bawdy accordion ballads. This all serves to highlight that the greatest success of this production is building tone.
The staging is hugely effective, with rusted planks of wood suggesting the skeletal loneliness of a shipwreck. There are also some really nice uses of torches, conjuring up magic spells, witches and—I believe though I may well be wrong—an angry dog.
As for the actors, they are almost uniformly brilliant. Standouts here are Avigail Tlalim who is excellent as Prospero – fitting nicely into that motherly boundary between caring and control freak. Milo Callaghan takes his immense physical prowess and charisma and once-more demonstrates why he's the name on everybody's lips (or is it just his abs?). Stanley Thomas took on the workload of two characters for this performance and plays them both excellently – coming off like the nerdy kid at school swept along in the plots of others.
If you like Shakespeare then you basically have to go; if not then, like the sea, this play could completely wash over you.