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Comedy, Dance and Theatre
Jack Shepherd, Director, The Tempest
Review - The Tempest at The Brewhouse Theatre, Taunton
by Michael Barry
There is much to admire and applaud in Love & Madness Ensemble’s production of “The Tempest” - and I have a lot of time for director Jack Shepherd.
However, this Tempest is not in the same league as other work of his. Partly a question of limited money and resources, I’m sure.
On the down side, most of the cast had problems with communication – diction, clarity, phrasing, voice control, whatever. Admittedly, they were shown up by the excellent Prospero of Matthew Sim – and a commendable Ferdinand from Luciano Dodero.
Total clarity is important, especially with Shakespeare’s extensive vocabulary, complex plotting, and liberal sprinkling of abstract ideas and verbal images. The vocal demands of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama are immense. In the opening dynamic storm scene which gives the play its title, I heard a mere 10% of the dialogue.
A lack of clarity is aggravated even more when the cut-price economics forced on theatre today mean that nine people are supplying a cast of seventeen characters. Doubling up needs very special care with identifying characters and making each one clearly distinctive. I was very confused for quite some time!
Several other economies were evident to the detriment of the production - including a face mask on Prospero in a trance to represent Juno; the new Stephania, a drunken Glaswegian female servant mostly asleep on her feet, rather than Stephano; and Sebastienne, a new sister to King Alonso, replacing brother Sebastian; Prospero’s brother Antonio is clearly two generations younger than he; Ariel and Caliban’s only distinguishing feature is the intelligence and wit of the former. Visually they could be interchangeable – not exactly an adequate comparison between an airy spirit and a lumpen clod of a witch’s son.
However, as I say, there is much to admire as well – there is a strong feeling of magic in the air, thanks in part to excellent lighting and sound, and a very workable setting of three hummocks of grass and two ladders.
There is a high charge of energy running through the performances. And there are some excellent touches of physical theatre – visual, gestural elements of very appropriate communication. I especially loved the “being washed up on the beach” moments: quite superb!
It’s not an easy play; and is based firmly on the visual spectacle of the masque. It needs a correspondingly high level of production values to do it justice.
But still worth seeing!
last updated: 22/10/07