Stafford Castle, Stafford – until 8 July 2017
Following the triumph of last year’s production of Othello at Stafford Castle, the team have pulled off yet another masterpiece of a spectacle with their latest Shakespeare Festival offering, The Tempest. Produced by Derrick Gask and directed by Clare Prenton, a more magical evening with such an engaging take on the Shakespeare classic I could not have imagined. It gives the RSC’s production a run for its money, that’s for sure!
A brief synopsis: Prospero, Duke of Milan is usurped by his calculating brother, Antonio, aided in his mission by Prospero’s political enemies. Prospero and his five year old daughter, Miranda are marooned on an island as a result where survival seems unlikely. However, with the aid of a spirit, Ariel and Ariel’s son, Caliban – he and Miranda have lived on the island for twelve years. When an opportunity for Prospero to seek revenge upon his brother and his cohorts, he summons magic to help him in his conquest. It’s a stormy tale with plenty of highs, lows and a good deal of comedy – all of which are highlighted to perfection in this incarnation.
The set is a marvel, with the castle in the background, it is a wonder to behold, the staging is in effect quite simple, but the use of lighting and special effects enhances the scenery and offers the perfect atmosphere for every nuance of the story. The nautical feel is evident but not over-bearing and leaves plenty to the imagination. What struck me with this production was the visual way in which the back-story was put across to the audience at the beginning, with added musical entertainment and dancing giving a light feel in contrast to the dramatic and turbulent tale which unfolds.
Stephen Beckett would never have been my automatic choice for the role of Prospero, and yet his portrayal was so thoughtful, considered, understated at times and powerful that I cannot imagine anyone else in the part – he surpassed the Prospero’s I have watched before. His chemistry with daughter, Miranda (Grace Carter) was extraordinarily believable, their father/daughter relationship played out beautifully and Carter was a genteel yet gutsy Miranda who could not have suited the role better. Gavin Swift’s Ariel was agile, able to blend like the proverbial chameleon and occasionally had a violin in tow, which he played brilliantly. Zephryn Taitte’s Caliban seemed almost benign to begin with, fairly non-descript, yet he came into his own when he met the drunken butler, Stephano, played with excellent comic timing by Jonathan Charles and Trinculo, the ‘jester’ who in this piece was a ventriloquist and played expertly by James Hornsby. The trio were a comedy force to be reckoned with and certainly a hit with the audience. James Lawrence put the sneer, simper and cunning into the ever-plotting Sebastian with gusto, Lawrence returns after his performance in Othello last year and he is an asset to Stafford Shakepeare Festival. Richard Gibson breathed new life into the bumbling Gonzalo, playing him with an air of smugness, I felt, which befitted the role and allowed the character to come to the fore more so than in other versions that I’ve seen. A special mention must also go to Katrina Kleve who gave a glorious performance as Francesca, a fine dancer, singer and all-round entertainer.
Miss The Tempest at your peril, Stafford Shakespeare have produced yet another superior version of a popular classic and the setting of Stafford Castle sets it off in stunning fashion.