The Tempest, Bread & Roses Theatre

The Tempest cut down to an hour performed by an all-female cast in a newish fringe venue in south London? Go on, then! Gender bending Shakespeare gives women opportunities to play seminal roles and audiences the chance to see Shakespeare’s characters in a new light. Get Over It Productions have been producing all-female Shakespeare for several years, having set up in order to direct and perform in their own work. They also seek to cast a mix of seasoned pros with actors just starting out, and have a small budget. All of this is bloody brilliant in principle.

But it’s incredibly difficult to do well. Taking on multiple roles within the production team, working with a range of abilities and experiences, and not having much to spend on a good venue is hard work. What was a good concept didn’t really work in practice here. There were some cracking performances, but the mix of naturalism and Victorian melodrama showed a lack of cohesive vision within the Victorian music hall design. Director Paula Benson, who also played Prospero and is the artistic director of the company, could have done with an impartial outside eye to provide additional support and guidance. Clapham’s Bread & Roses, though a lovely space, is too small for the 11-strong cast and often led to stilted, restrained physicality and actors bumping into each other during transitions. This had a knock-on effect on line delivery, breaking up the metre and muddying line endings, and flattening energy. Shakespeare’s language is intrinsically linked to the actors’ movement and when one is blocked, it obstructs the other. There were no weapons; instead they were mimed. Unarmed combat would have been a more active choice, as the actors looked self-conscious with the lack of weapons.

The performance quality varied, but is to be expected with a company of mixed ability and experience. Benson’s melancholy, plotting Prospero was a unique and effective perspective I haven’t seen before. Sassy Clyde’s goofy, posh Ferdinand was equally unique and very funny. The contrast with the naïve Miranda (Velenzia Spearpoint) was wonderful; if she had more worldly experience she would most certainly not go for such a useless fellow. Both Clyde and Benson are convincing as blokes, with much focus on masculine gesture and movement. Joan Potter as Gonzalo and Cindy Evans as Alonso also play excellent men. Telma Rocha has the comic ability to contort her face into one resembling Commedia masks, and also has a well-developed, albeit stylized, character in Trinculo.

Despite the several issues with the production, they are ones that are easily solvable and with a few tweaks, including sharing production responsibility with a larger, trusted creative team will really ramp up Get Over It’s work. Lengthening the show, even a little bit, will make the cuts to the script less jarring and the action more fluid. Budget obviously can’t be helped much, but an adjustable space like The Bread & Roses allows for a different audience layout that would give the performers more space. I could see traverse staging working well with this production concept. Get Over It Productions ambitions are certainly commendable and the talent is clearly present. Perhaps this production was a weaker one, and I look forward to seeing future work.

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