A stormy start to the season: The Tempest review

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Tempest

The Tempest
Dir. Joseph Bell
Prod. Maggie Pelta-Pauls
**

Having never seen a production of The Tempest before, I was looking forward to seeing this version, described as a ‘leaner and simpler rendition’ of Shakespeare’s last play. However, due to a number of difficulties, this production left me high and dry.

The first issue I had with the production had to do with the very first scene. Despite having no context for The Tempest, even I’d heard of the famous ‘storm scene’ where the cast is shipwrecked upon an island. The show opened, the storm happened, and I could not, for the life of me, have told you what anyone had said in the scene. Diction is a crucial as- pect of any production, particularly in Shakespeare. Especially in the Barron, it should not have been so difficult to be able to tell what everyone was saying.

Another issue had to do with lines. Despite a valiant attempt by Tom Vanson as Prospero, he struggled to remember his lines, leaving many of his other actors in the lurch. The cast all responded admirably, working together to keep the play moving, but even in scenes where lines didn’t seem to be the problem the energy faltered enormously. Once Vanson – who has given a great number of incredible performances in his time at St Andrews, making this a huge surprise – began reading from a script, the show picked up tremendously, as he had a wonderful, naturalistic way of reading the text that was great to watch.

Pacing overall could have been much tighter – though described as a ‘lean and simple’ rendition of the text, there were times the action dragged enough that it felt as though the text hadn’t been cut at all. On top of this, I got the sense on a few occasions that lines weren’t properly understood by the actors, which can be a kiss of death in any production of Shakespeare. If the actors don’t know the meaning, it’s nearly impossible to get it across to the audience.

There were some excellent points to the production – Olly Lennard’s Ariel was a lighthearted addition to the show, all the more admirable considering he was a late addition to the cast. Tyler Anderson’s Caliban was also impressive and incredibly energetic, Anderson drew the eye in all his scenes. The makeup for these two was also incredibly well done, and should be commended. Ed Fry and Baxter Gaston, playing wonderfully off each other as a pair of drunken shipwrecked sailors, were further bright points in the show.

Overall, this was a show that could have done much better than it did. Suffering from a whole series of difficulties in even putting the show on (it was scheduled to be performed in week 11 of last semester in Venue 1, but was moved to this semester and the Barron on short notice), it’s an achievement that the show even happened in the first place. As a production however, it could have used at least another week to get it together.

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