‘The Tempest’ at Southward Playhouse – Review

Alonso, King of Naples, is thrown into the furious sea with his son, Ferdinand; his brother, Sebastian; and the Duke of Milan, Antonio. Caught in the eponymous storm, they find themselves shipwrecked on an island. Prospero, the former Duke of Milan, resides on the island with his 15-year-old daughter, Miranda. As they learn of the shipwreck, Miranda learns that new arrival Antonio, Prospero’s brother, had usurped the ex-Duke. Prospero however, had managed to escape with her and a library of books. Thus unfurls a merry mess of drama that tickles the audience’s comical side as well as touching their hardened hearts with a smidge of sentiment.

The audience expects an eventual showdown between the group of new unsuspecting arrivals and Prospero (Sarah Malin). A tad of romance is thrown in between Ferdinand (Benjamin Cawley) and Miranda (Gemma Lawrence) as are some attempted revolts: Sebastian and Antonio plan to kill Alonso for the crown; Caliban wishes to terminate Prospero and tries to employ the help of two whimsical drunkards whom he foolishly takes for gods. As a result, you have all the elements of an exciting tale.

The quaint theatre in Southward Playhouse is smaller than expected and by the time everyone in the audience had sat down the venue seemed full to the brim. The seats appear to interfere with the stage as what is left of it appears to be a narrow passageway. Yet the actors utilize the space in a way that the tiny theatre undergoes a transformative expansion. The little playhouse is lined with pipes on walls and scattered throughout it are an array of instruments: maracas, drums, curious shaky creaky things that emit a manner of jarring sounds.

The staging is minimalist, as are the costumes. The actors wear entirely black, unless playing multiple characters, in which case one item of recognisable clothing is worn to denote the character. The play is largely reliant on the audience’s imagination which is enlivened by the immersive sounds the instruments create when combined. A ruckus created by the hitting of pipes, by the tingle of a triangle, by the tap on a drum; the sounds come from all corners of the room and teleport the audience onto the imaginary island. The expectation that Prospero (Sarah Malin) is an omnipotent man is subverted because he is played by a woman, but in no way undermined. Malin authoritatively commands the stage so the magnitude of her intimidation can be felt by all in the room. The chemistry between Cawley and Lawrence is electric, both as drunken buddies and as star-crossed lovers. This production does utilize minimalist staging and costumes, but the way that the cast bring the characters and the play to life will not disappoint.

The Tempest is a Shakespearian classic we have been familiar with for centuries. It is currently being brought to the stage with a contemporary twist at the Southwark Playhouse, playing from 5-28 January 2017, with the following cast:

Ariel – Peter Caulfield

Ferdinand/Stephano/Sebastian  – Benjamin Cawley

Miranda/Trinculo/Antonio – Gemma Lawrence

Prospero – Sarah Malin

Caliban/Alonso – Stanton Plummer-Cambridge

Percussion by Andrew Meredith

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