Watermill - The Tempest
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Watermill - The Tempest

27th September to 3rd November 2012.

Review from Newbury Theatre.

At the Paralympics opening ceremony, Ian McKellen’s Prospero was a kindly old gentleman. In the Watermill’s Tempest, Michael Hadley’s Prospero is less serene, but it’s hard not to like him. He rages, but not too fiercely; it feels as though Ariel and Caliban are getting tough love as naughty children. But, as the programme notes point out, he is masterminding a Machiavellian power struggle; at the start of the play he uses his chess set like a computer console to control the storm, giving just a hint of an evil genius that might erupt at any time, but never does. This was a powerful, if slightly creepy, performance.

The production draws on the Watermill’s tradition of using actor/musicians to add an extra dimension. I wasn’t too sure about this to start with, as the music tended to drown Ariel’s singing, but it made the dance in the second half very effective.

Prospero’s usurping brother Antonio (Stephen Finegold) and would-be regicide Sebastian (Eamonn O’Dwyer) are smooth, swaggering city types in suits, taking every opportunity to deride the prattling Gonzalo (Johnson Willis). Their confidence slips (along with their sartorial elegance) as Prospero tightens the net on them. Jonathan Christie, as the son of King Alonso (Jeff Alexander), is handsome and charismatic, and as the only other man that Miranda (Greer Dale-Foulkes) has seen (apart from Daddy) is Caliban, it’s not surprising that she falls for him in a big way.

There are strong performances from Aoife McMahon as Ariel, hauntingly sad and vulnerable, and Tim Chipping as a likeable Caliban, and good support from the other characters, with comic relief from James Allen as Stephano and Tarek Merchant as Trinculo.

Jemima Robinson’s ‘damp tiled room’ set is fairly basic; the addition of a row of books and radios under the gallery to indicate ‘the breadth of Prospero’s intellect’ doesn’t really come off as they are too isolated from the action, and effectively out of sight.

Paul Hart’s modern-dress production gives a clear insight into the complex multi-dimensional chess game that’s going on between the characters and offers a bit of magic for an autumn night.

PAUL SHAVE

Review from the Newbury Weekly News and the British Theatre Guide.

Reality check for Prospero

The Watermill's modern dress production of The Tempest is sheer magic

The Tempest, at The Watermill, Bagnor until Saturday, November 3

Director Paul Hart’s bold, modern-dress production of The Tempest is sheer magic and he is blessed with a talented cast of actor/musicians who bring a vibrancy and a beguiling interpretation to this tale of betrayal, power, isolation and revenge.

Jemima Robinson’s striking design substitutes a damp, clammy, tiled room with rusty pipes, crackling radios and cluttered rows of books for the mysterious island surrounded by the ocean.

Steve Mayo has created a rich soundscape including extracts from the weather forecast building up to the tempestuous storm scene and Olly Fox’s exuberant music added depth. It was skilfully played by the actors.

Edited by Ben Crystal and Paul Hart, the whole production questions whether the magical characters are real or part of Prospero’s mind, which adds an intriguing dimension to Shakespeare’s play.

Michael Hadley is a splendidly powerful and mystical Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, who has been usurped by his brother Antonio (Stephen Finegold). He has been marooned on the island for the past 12 years with his daughter Miranda, the delightful Greer Dale-Foulkes, and is determined to reinstate her to her rightful place.

Prospero controls the island with his supernatural powers and has enslaved the sprite Ariel - the excellent Aoife McMahon - who is, alarmingly, wearing a straitjacket to carry out his mystical charms. Tim Chipping brings a rustic, debauched interpretation to the character of the much exploited and maltreated Caliban.

When Prospero’s brother Antonio and his entourage of Alonzo the King of Naples (Jeff Alexander) and his brother Sebastian (Eamonn O’Dwyer) together with the amicable cleric Gonzalo (Johnson Willis) and Iris (Jessica Dyas) sail near to the island, Prospero conjures up a storm and is determined to wreak his revenge as the boat is shipwrecked.

Also landing on the island and providing some wonderful comic moments are James Allen as Stephano and Tarek Merchant as Trinculo. Caliban discovers them and thinks they are Gods with hilarious results.

When the attractive Ferdinand (Jonathan Christie) meets Miranda, he instantly falls in love with her, but Prospero forces him to undertake arduous tasks in order to prove his troth.

There is some reconciliation at the end of the play that is reputed to be Shakespeare’s last and that Prospero’s final speech was his farewell to the stage. I’m sure the Bard would have approved of this fine production.

ROBIN STRAPP

There are reviews from The Stage ("it’s a magical experience"), The Good Review ("every available inch of the stage, and much of the auditorium, is used to ingenious effect, and the combination of imagery, movement, speech and sound, including original music, squeezes every ounce of magic from the Bard’s fantastical text... entrancing, at times unsettling" - four stars), WhatsOnStage (three stars) and Marlborough People ("convincingly good").