‘A visual wonder’: THE TEMPEST – St Paul’s Church ★★★

In London theatre, Opinion, Plays, Reviews by Debbie GilpinLeave a Comment

St Paul’s Church, London – until 28 July 2018

Formed in 2007, Iris Theatre’s summer seasons have become a fixture in the London theatre calendar, producing a Shakespeare and family show to perform in the grounds of St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden. This year’s Shakespeare is his final solo play: The Tempest, directed by Daniel Winder.

Aside from some wonderful sections of verse, it’s probably my least favourite Shakespeare play of them all (mostly due to the most tedious subplot) – but I’m always keen to find a production that might convert me to the cause. And an outdoor promenade version must be an intriguing prospect to any theatregoer.

Exiled duke Prospero, with the help of the spirit Ariel, whips up a storm that forces a shipload of his enemies to the island where he is now living with his daughter, Miranda. While Prospero’s brother Antonio (who usurped his dukedom) plots with Sebastian to kill Alonso (the King of Naples), island native Caliban falls in with Stephano and Trinculo and persuades them to help him kill Prospero – and Alonso’s son Ferdinand is separated from the rest, meeting Miranda and the two falling in love at first sight (Prospero is secretly pleased about this, but decides to test the young prince’s affections). Will the groups ever be reunited?

A bit of practical advice to start with. Whilst it is a promenade production, for this show it basically means you move from one seating zone to another, so you don’t need to worry about wearing shoes that are comfortable to stand in for the duration of the performance. There is mention of it being an indoor and outdoor experience, but really it’s 90% outside and the garden can get quite chilly towards the end (even on the hottest day), so be warned.

Initially I had my doubts about the virtue of moving everyone around for different sections, as with large crowds it can take forever to get everyone from one place to another (and is probably why my performance overran by 15 minutes), but it does at least break up the extended rumblings of the subplots – and has the effect of moving you from one part of the island to another, like the characters.

Given that it is broken up into manageable chunks, it would actually be more effective to abridge the overly long text and make it a straight-through performance. There are no toilets on site, so it’s almost cruel to get people going to the bar beforehand & during an interval, and starting up the second half proves to be very difficult as nobody can hear an unamplified Ferdinand singing over the din of the crowd… By running straight-through, it would keep you immersed in their little world entirely (and perhaps stop people from being tempted to check their phones every five minutes) – as well as removing some parts of the play that hinder captivating storytelling.

Great credit has to go to Mike Leopold for some picturesque set design; the stage and spiral staircase where we begin and end our adventure particularly stands out (with its trapdoors & hidey-holes it could easily have been used for the whole play), as well as the warm colours emanating from inside the church that complement Inigo Jones’ architectural design (even if the masque is the most superfluous part of the entire piece!). Benjamin Polya’s lighting design lends a lovely atmosphere towards the end of the show, as the natural light begins to escape.

The small cast do well to cover all the characters between them, with five of the seven doubling up in an effective manner. Charlotte Christensen is a near-constant presence as Ariel, bringing a sense of mischief and great musicality to the role. Prince Plockey, Paul Brendan and Reginald Edwards are most engaging as they band together as Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano, singing drunkenly and making outlandish plans to become rulers of the island – their performances do make that particular subplot more bearable. Joanne Thomson brings an unexpected (& welcome) amount of fun to the role of Miranda, and combines well with Linford Johnson as Ferdinand. Jamie Newall is a slightly more pleasant Prospero than you might usually see; it’s an interesting take on the character, however it doesn’t really leave you wondering what he might do if he came face-to-face with his treacherous brother, and doesn’t inspire an awful amount of awe & fear in his powers.

The Tempest
Photo credit: Nick Rutter

My verdict? A nice enough experience and a valiant attempt at making this play more bearable, though a bit more trimming would be ideal – however, it’s a visual wonder that makes excellent use of the church & its garden, incorporating some magical set designs.

Rating: 3*

The Tempest runs at St Paul’s Church until 28 July 2018. Tickets are available online.

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Tags: Benjamin Polya, Charlotte Christensen, Covent Garden, Daniel Winder, Inigo Jones, Iris Theatre, Jamie Newall, Joanne Thomson, Linford Johnson, London, Mike Leopold, Paul Brendan, Prince Plockey, Reginald Edwards, review, shakespeare, St Paul’s Church, The Tempest, theatre, West End, William ShakespeareCategories: all posts, review, shakespeare, theatre

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Debbie Gilpin on FacebookDebbie Gilpin on Twitter
Debbie Gilpin
Debbie Gilpin stumbled into writing about theatre when she moved to London after studying for a degree in Human Genetics at Newcastle University. She started her website Mind the Blog in November 2014 and also tweets from @Mind_the_Blog. She spent the best part of 2014-16 inadvertently documenting Sunny Afternoon in the West End, and now also writes for BroadwayWorld UK. Debbie’s theatre passions are Shakespeare and new writing, but she’s also a sucker for shows with a tap routine.
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Debbie Gilpin on FacebookDebbie Gilpin on Twitter
Debbie Gilpin
Debbie Gilpin stumbled into writing about theatre when she moved to London after studying for a degree in Human Genetics at Newcastle University. She started her website Mind the Blog in November 2014 and also tweets from @Mind_the_Blog. She spent the best part of 2014-16 inadvertently documenting Sunny Afternoon in the West End, and now also writes for BroadwayWorld UK. Debbie’s theatre passions are Shakespeare and new writing, but she’s also a sucker for shows with a tap routine.