The Tempest

Four Stars

The Tempest, once the least produced of Shakespeare's important plays, is currently undergoing a resurgence of interest on the stage; and so I was excited to see what a student team would make of a play that gives so much room for thematic interpretation. In fact, what is great about this production is that it doesn't limit itself to a single "reading" of the text, but simply delights in the theatre of the piece. This is a Tempest in which the props are beer and pizza (expect to be showered with froth) and the staging is minimal and vivid.

I had some reservations about the characterisation of Prospero, who first appears on stage in boxers and vest like a surly teenager. But over the length of the play, an interesting take on the character has been built up: he is a young and far-from-omnipotent Prospero, caught up by his power and agonised by it. The problem for me was that one needs a central figure who appears to drive the plot, and this new take on Prospero couldn't do that. This comes down in the end, I suppose, to a matter of taste.

I was also apprehensive about the difficulty of staging a play in such a small space. Miraculously, it works. The audience feels some of the claustrophobia of the island setting, and is gently invited into the performance. The technical side of the production was all effectively composed, although the very first scene, a vision of the tempest itself, gave the impression more of a light drizzle than a tumult.

The worst productions of The Tempest are the ones where Ariel camps it up too much, and thankfully here he did not, instead remaining an utterly convincing yet otherworldly figure. Holly Cracknell, too, was brilliantly understated as Miranda, with a subtly expressive face.

What made me happiest was that the show is actually funny. Directors seem to think that Shakespeare has to be serious even when it's comic, but this production takes slapstick humour at a slapstick level. In particular, Tim Kelby as Stephano had some really funny moments. In any case, how can the image of someone talking to a head that's poking out of another's backside fail to be a little bit amusing?

The play has already sold out in Cambridge, but the Pembroke Players are taking it on their annual tour, this year to Japan. It might just be worth the trip to go see them.

Reviewer: Tom Gilliver

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