Widely accepted as Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest reveals a playwright at the zenith of his art. Playfully experimenting with the interplay of prose and verse, barbarism and the occult, the romance-cum-comedy-cum tragedy is undoubtedly the work of a confident, daring artist.
This particular interpretation of the play, performed by the Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Society under the directorship of Emma Wilkinson is similarly self-assured. Set against the dramatic backdrop of an imposing, crumbling vessel, on a stage scattered with sand and smattered with rocks, the production espouses stark minimalism. Minimal also were the costumes, most of which, I felt could have been obtained in a thirty-minute jaunt to Primark: ne’er was a wardrobe department so bereft of creativity, with Miranda donning a basic cardigan, leggings, and a pair of leather boots.
What the play lacked in vivacious garb, however, it more than compensated in thespian talent: Guy Clark is an outstanding feral Caliban, skilfully fusing his stirring verse with churlish savagery as he prowled the stage in perpetual agitation. Rebecca Hare and Laura Inge were magnificent in their roles as the coarse and opportunistic Stefano and Trinculo, forming a formidable comedic double act. Kate Reid accomplishes no mean feat as she transposes a sense of animation and wilfulness to the often passive Miranda, whilst Sam Grabiner carried off the role of the foppish Ferdinand to the great mirth of the audience. Particular mention must be afforded to Laura Waldren, who delivers a nuanced and understated performance as the composed Gonzalo. The night, however, belonged to Mark Milligan, who transforms the ethereal, earnest Ariel into an effusive, effeminate yes-man. Milligan’s impeccable comic timing, lavish gesticulating, and spirited vocal performances earned him a roaring round of applause.
The production is not without its niggles. The choreography of the spirits and angels feels somewhat clumsy as they perform the rites of the wedding ritual, with peculiar hand-clapping and questionable dance moves making the production feel, for the first time, rather amateurish. Joey Akubeze’s performance of Prospero is undoubtedly the play’s most challenging role; and whilst he affords the figure great complexity as he skilfully toes the line between the pernicious sage and the loving, tender father in expectance of his own death, I feel that he did not command the stage as the great magician ought, and his delivery of the famed “cloud-capp’d towers” speech feels somewhat rushed, but this could be put down to first night nerves.
However to focus on these minor quibbles and f would be to do a great disservice to the company, whose production encapsulates the delicate balance of magic, mirth and mystery that defines Shakespeare’s final play.