views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Tempest
The London Theatre
9th March 2014

★★☆☆☆

At the beginning of The Tempest, Prospero, a man ruling over his small domain with plenty of skill, seeks to achieve his own ends by causing a great storm - resulting in many men being drowned through the fault of only a few. It's unfortunate that in some respects, life imitates art. Off-stage, academic and director Arthur Kincaid makes perfectly competent decisions in very traditional staging of a Shakespearean piece. However, as Prospero himself, it's as if he's spent so much time working with the other actors that he's neglected his own role and given that it's not an insignificant one, this does pose a problem.

In his opening scene across from Lola May as his daughter Miranda, standing in for a late-running Skyrah Palli, Kincaid fails to create any excitement or controversy as the wronged magician and once and future Duke of Milan. He's neither a wise sage, nor benign dictator nor - as is my favourite interpretation - simply a bit of a git, seeking to exert control in trivialities as an attempt to disguise his actual impotence. This is evident when May, a very last-minute understudy acting with script-in-hand, actually delivers a better performance. Kincaid does not make it easy for her, offering her very little visible emotion to bounce off. Despite being a newcomer to the stage, she copes admirably under the pressure, bringing charm and vulnerability to Miranda. With a bigger part to play and some time to learn her lines, she could be very good indeed and certainly deserves to go further.

Just as the sea swells up and down, there are some other highs to this production which, if you didn't already know, sees Prospero trap his duplicitous brother Sebastian (Chris Hudson) and the King of Naples (Shawn McCrory) on his island, before the King's son Ferdinand (Perry Brookes Jr) falls in love with Miranda. But it's Stephano (Alexander McMorran), Trinculo (Christopher Kelsey) and Caliban (John Askew) who really lift the piece as a trio of misfits, thrown together by circumstance and making the most of it. McMorran has a fantastic natural stage presence, judging the comedy perfectly and instantly building a rapport with the audience. Kelsey plays his role of a jester rather closer to that of a queen, and the overblown daft campness puts us in mind of Ramsay Gilderdale's Guy of Gisborne from 90s television series Maid Marian and her Merry Men.

Askew completes the magic number, with Prospero's subhuman Caliban a stuttering, slow wild-man, earning a fair share of sympathy. In his constant battle with Trinculo for Stephano's affection, both men's earnestness is endearing. Indeed, there are many easily missed gestures of attempted contact and rejection which tug at the heartstrings - proving that Kincaid does have an eye for detail when he takes a step back.

Mention too must go to Richard Ward and David Jones as Gonzalo and Ariel. Ward straddles the line between humour and seriousness well. A charismatic actor, once again, Ward hasn't picked the best of horses to back, we previously saw him in a doomed Camden Fringe piece, but that doesn't reflect on him as a performer. Like May, he just needs better opportunities, the talent is there.

Jones' controlled baritone ramps up the quality of this production and it comes as no surprise that with such a beautiful voice, he used to be a member of a capella group Out of the Blue, a firm Edinburgh Fringe favourite. Credit too must be given to Jones for the sheer bravery of appearing in an intimately sized theatre wearing nothing but a tiny g-string and lots of body paint.

Oxford Chamber Theatre certainly has the right thought process, if not the execution. Some cues were painfully missed, at other times it felt like the production was just dragging, desperate for a shot in the arm that came, occasionally, with our would-be revolutionaries who rescued the play when it faltered. The company is clearly passionate about the classics, but if they are to come to London and compete with other fringe groups churning out four-star productions almost quarterly - such as Grassroots and Lazarus - they need to collectively up their game.

The Tempest ran from 4th March to 16th March 2014 at The London Theatre. It then transfered to Oxford and the Lake District.

Nearest tube station: New Cross (Overground)



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