REVIEW: The Tempest, Southwark Playhouse ✭✭✭✭

The Tempest at Southwark PlayhouseThe Tempest
Southwark Playhouse
6 Jan 2017
Four stars
Book Tickets

“Be not afeard” says Caliban, the much-maligned monster and would-be antagonist in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. “The isle is full of noises.” And so it is, as upon entering Southwark Playhouse’s intimate ‘Little’ performance space, things are already in full swing with a wall of sound that overwhelms the audience as they take their seats. The cast, all armed with various percussive instruments, beat out noisy tunes that welcome the audience into the rhythmic, staccato world of the island. They improvise together and play with the audience, one saucily nipping into an unoccupied seat, building an atmosphere of fun before the play itself has even started.

Only Prospero (Sarah Malin) stands aloof, waiting for the right moment to call an end to these revels before summoning her sea storm. Now the music changes and the drums transform into rolling thunder and sharp, crashing lightning bolts. Simple techniques, yet very effective.

The Tempest at Southwark PlayhouseAnd that, in essence, is Southwark’s Tempest. Incredibly simple, with a cast of six, little set, few props, but tremendously well done. The small cast has great chemistry and everything is well-timed, well-rehearsed and adeptly executed.

Malin as Prospero excellently mixes motherly instinct with the underlying power of a great sorcerer.  In waistcoat and suit trousers she cuts an androgynous figure and light and sound are used to convey her magical power along with terrific usage of body movement – no additional effects necessary. She’s assisted by Peter Caulfield, a suitably other-worldly Ariel, who moves about the space like shadow and adding haunting vocals where required. At the start of the play, there’s an entrancing sequence in which Prospero entraps him in a kind of straitjacket, harnessing Ariel’s power, accompanied by excellent percussion work (courtesy of performer Andrew Meredith, who has mastered a variety of obscure instruments to create stunning soundscapes). It’s one of many strong images that appear throughout the piece.

The Tempest at Southwark PlayhouseArguably the hardest workers of the cast are Benjamin Cawley and Gemma Lawrence, who take on the trios of Ferdinand, Stephano and Sebastian, and Miranda, Trinculo (‘Trincula’ in this production) and Antonio respectively. Cawley’s Stephano is an effortless and humorous interpretation, and his Ferdinand is so endearingly lovable that Miranda’s swift infatuation seems fairly justified. Miranda is very well portrayed by Lawrence, but it’s her stroppy, reeling, cockney Trincula that is a true highlight. Through a whirlwind of well-choreographed quick changes and distinct accents, the performers flit from character to character without difficulty. A benefit to this choice is that characters almost seem to pop out of the ground as if summoned by Prospero’s magic. Stanton Plummer-Cambridge doubles as Caliban and King Alonso and is an excellent example of how posture can create a character.

The Tempest at Southwark PlayhouseAll the best lines remain in this pared-down version of the text, such as Caliban’s musings on the ‘noises’ of the island and Prospero’s declaration that ‘we are such stuff as dreams are made on’. The story is kept clear and complete, unlike other abridgements that can leave an audience lost.

There’s no new ground broken in this interpretation, but everything done is done well and is full of clever ideas for building the world of the play with limited resources. The entire production has immense charm, and its concise length of ninety minutes and trimming of extraneous content makes it ideal for those new to the play or Shakespeare in general. A refreshingly gimmick-free and inventive production.

Until 28 January 2017


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