Hope Theatre, London – until 18 July 2015
Guest Reviewer: Terry Eastham
Not only can Shakespeare be considered to be England’s greatest playwright, he is probably the most prolific when it comes to performances of his work. The plays are amazingly flexible in the many ways they can be stage and the latest production of “The Tempest” at The Hope Theatre by the Thick as Thieves Production company is a lovely case in point.
A massive storm – the Tempest of the title – has hit the water around a remote island and is threatening the ships of the King of Naples (Thomas Judd) and his court as they return from Tunisia. As the storm gets worse, the passengers jump into the sea, hoping to get away from the ships that look as if they will sink at any moment. However, this is no ordinary storm. It has been conjured up by the spirit Ariel (Ariel Harrison) at the behest of her master Prospero (Marcus Houden). As the storm subsides, Prospero’s daughter Miranda (Nicky Diss) quizzes her father as to where it had come from. Prospero then tells his tale. He is in fact the Duke of Milan who was usurped by his sister Antonia (Nicky Diss) and exiled on the island. Since he arrived, Prospero has worked on his knowledge of magic and is now ready to have his revenge on those that betrayed him. Ariel has deposited the ship’s passengers around the island. The king is with Antonia, Sebastian (Marcus Houden) and the aged councellor Gonzalo (Ariel Harrison),whilst his son, Ferdinand (Thomas Judd) is alone on another part of the island. A third contingent – the butler Stephano (Nicky Diss) and the King’s jester, Trinculo (Marcus Houden) – are also saved and have been discovered by Prospero’s slave, the deformed and wicked Caliban (Thomas Judd) who tries to use them to get his freedom. Using his skill and cunning, and with the magical assistance of Ariel, Prospero manipulates the various groups to come together and changes their lives forever.
Now, you may have noticed in the synopsis above, all 11 characters in “The Tempest” are played by only four highly skilled actors, one of whom – Nicky Diss – is also the production’s Director. The Hope theatre, is a small intimate space with the audience sat around three sides of the stage area so fitting an entire island with such a small cast is definitely a bit of a challenge. This production meets that challenge head on and defeats it in fine style. The play works really well, with a life and an energy that is infectious in drawing the audience into Shakespeare’s beautiful words. Part of this is the speed of costume changes as scenes and characters change. The interesting thing is that while sometimes, the change may only be the addition of a shirt over a vest (from Caliban to Ferdinand for example), the actors ensure that the audience never loses track as to which character is on stage at any time. This is something that, I feel, can only be achieved by a cast that is working in complete harmony with each other and this group of performers are definitely doing that. It would be unfair to single out one or more of the actors for special praise as they are all fantastic in their respective, multiple, roles.
The performance itself is fast – the entire show is under 2 hours long – but never frenetic and feels both traditionally Shakespearean and modern at the same time. This is in part achieved by the set which takes in the entire theatre and not just the stage, creating a lovely illusion of being on an island paradise somewhere in the Med rather than above a pub in Islington.
Whether you are a Shakespeare aficionado or simply trying the Bard for this first time, this production of “The Tempest” is a wonderful example of the versatility and beauty of the playwright’s work and is highly recommended.