first night

The Tempest

Hannah Sanderson views Phoenix Theatre Company's take on a Shakespearean classic.

 This heart-warming tale of betrayal, love and forgiveness was brought to life by the Phoenix Theatre Company. It was certainly the night to perform The Tempest, there was barely any need for sound effects with the perfect gale blowing outside. This being said, congratulations are certainly in order for Andrei Sandu and the tech team. They struck the prefect balance between realistic sound effects and musical transitions, without it infringing too much on the acting. I found that especially their choice of music was fitting for creating the mystical feel on the island. The set create a picture of the idyllic aspects of the isle. The simplicity of the design did not detract from the action however, in fact it enhanced it. The actors took upon themselves to make their acting captivating so the audience were able to conjure up a mental image of the island, with the scenery as a prompt.

Two actors that were especially good at this were Qasim Salam, who played Caliban and Jake Goldman as the leading actor Prospero. Salam successful portrayed the earth-trodden character that his role dictates. Through his voice and slightly slouched posture he captured the audience with his course language and darting movements. Goldman acted as a prefect opposite, holding himself upright as a Duke should. This meant the audience saw his sense of entitlement but also the power he possessed on the isle. Honor Webb took on the hard role of Ariel with gusto, there was no doubt in the audience’s mind over her mischievous character. One thing I would encourage her to do however, would be to use the stage more. Much like Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Ariel is very light on her feet and flies about the island creating havoc. Her flighty character can be easily expressed through rapid movements about the stage, creating the idea that she is almost omnipotent.

Movement in fact appeared to be something that the cast struggled with. Too many of the lesser roles were wooden, they seemed to be more concerned with speaking Shakespeare than acting him. It is important to remember that the audience have come to see a performance not a recital. Having said this the concentration on the language was good decision on Josie Williams, the director’s, part. Language in a Shakespeare play is probably the most important aspect, and in this performance not a word was lost. This was particularly well done by both Salam and Goldman again. They both have two of the most important speeches in the play, Prospero in fact has several. The way in which they managed to add feeling to every word and line meant the true brilliance of Shakespeare’s writing was impressed upon the audience.

A way perhaps to describe the play was that the actors surrounded you with their acting. Williams had them appearing from all sorts of places in the stage, an excellent use of the slightly restricted space provided. This method of direction kept the audience’s attention and created the illusion that the action was indeed moving around the island.

The comic actors played their parts very well, although there was a tendency to over act in parts. It must be remembered that a lot of the comedy is retained in Shakespeare’s language, so let the words speak for themselves and do not muffle them with wild gestures. Although this could also have been a decision of the director’s to return to the routes of Shakespeare’s comedy, where overacting was the only thing to keep the poorly educated Elizabethan audience engaged. The two duos in the play continually tickled the audience. The key to Shakespearean comedy is timing and these four never missed a trick! The first scene in which we meet Antonio and Sebastian was hands down one of the best scenes in the play. Jake Hathaway and Rebecca Cadman played each other off brilliantly with their taunting remarks directed towards Gonzalo, so much so that Collen Agnew’s annoyance seemed truly genuine! Their pace was truly phenomenal and their exchange was almost like watching a Wimbledon match in the swift manner it shot back and forth. This can be said for the play as a whole; the rapid pace ensured the audience’s rapt attention.

Overall this play was well directed and acted. A slight drawback might be the blocking in certain scenes. There were times when actors hid behind others making it hard to see them, and the stage did become very crowded in the last scene. If there is the advantage of a stage with two levels it is paramount to constantly make use of it. However, the actors clearly grasped the meaning of Shakespeare’s words and portrayed this through their acting. They should be reminded to always stay in character, especially during entrances and exits. Without any distraction from the set the audience’s full attention will be focused on those on stage; if they step out of character the audience will lose interest.

Despite this criticism the play was very enjoyable and I would definitely recommend catching one of the two remaining shows. 

4 December 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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