Shakespeare 400 has understandably inspired a glut of Shakespeare productions this month. Whilst it’s brilliant to see people celebrating the Bard at all performance levels and abilities, the quality of productions out there hugely varies. The Steiner House’s Shakespeare Festival production of The Tempest, with it’s Asian-inspired music and costume, cuts a lovely aesthetic but the majority of performances are painfully sub-par. At nearly three hours long with the interval, it’s also entirely too long, made so by some of the cast’s laconic pace, slow transitions and no noticeable cutting. Though commendably diverse in race and nationality and lovely to look at, the performances make this production more like a dull, drizzly day than an otherworldly storm.
Hedi Pinkerfield’s music is subtle and atmospheric, with more personality than most of the characters portrayed on stage. It never overpowers, and provides a dynamic, nearly-constant soundtrack for the story. Indian and Japanese influences don’t try to be edgy or interesting, but appropriately populate this island that’s full of more noises than people. It’s lovely and soothing, and helps alleviate the tedium of the poor delivery on stage.
Emma Caller’s costumes are similarly rich, drawing on Indian influences of rich coloured tunics and flowing dresses. The set incorporates the same “slightly brighter than pastel but not garish” colour scheme. It’s as soothing as the music, with a giant full moon watching the action on a gauzy backdrop. Initially seeming solid, Prospero hides behind it, illuminated, at one moment. It’s a great choice, but one sadly avoided in the numerous other instances where he invisibly observes other characters.
Of the sixteen-strong cast, a few are quite good. Alexander Yousri and Machael Claff are energetic double-act Trinculo and Stephano, as are Robert Land (Sebastian) and Eshy Moyo (Antonio). Samuel Mattioli is a sweetly wistful Ferdinand, but let down by a Miranda who doesn’t articulate her consonants, making her difficult to understand. Director Geoff Norris casts three Ariels for indecipherable reasons; Bowy Goudkamp is the strongest, resisting the instinct to constantly writhe around or pull constipated faces at the audience.
The rest struggle with maintaining Shakespeare’s rhythm and variation of tone at the same time, some chew the words rather than easily speak them. Still others mumble or don’t articulate consonants, creating a white noise rather than a comprehensive story. There’s a general lack or pace and genuine characters, making this a highly frustrating experience. Director Geoff Norris seems to lack experience directing inexperienced performers and handling Shakespeare’s text, particularly this more linguistically complex final play.
Norris’ misguided casting and lack of structural instinct are the primary shortcomings in Perform International’s The Tempest. Fortunately his choice of composer and designer provides some relief, but not enough to alleviate this particular island’s drudgery.
The Tempest runs through 30th April.
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