Reported by Simon Jenner
Limited to six multi-roling actors we still got the luxury of four Ariels, multi-voicing on pre-recorded cues like the Weird Sisters. Certainly Director Nick Quirke took this limit and the lapping three-sided promontory of the stage to throw out his voices all over his island, sometimes behind the raked audience, as if the cast were Ariel, which was largely the case. It worked particularly when – this time live – the ensemble sang Ariel’s songs. There’s much genuinely magical in this production – in some ways the most innovative Tempest I’ve seen – and in some ways the most maddening.
The set’s stark resources are supremely used. A half-furled sail at one end doubles as suggestive projection screen for waves, apparitions and finally the Caliban invasion force in abject defeat facing their on-stage selves in courtier roles turned to them; who both voice their dismay and courtiers’ jibes, a superb way of overcoming the doubling quandary. The opening tempest scene too blusters into almost incomprehensible sound-and-fury – quite right. Shakespeare’s hyper-naturalistic jargon flung around elliptically by a desperate crew who only talk and jump-to in specialisms necessary for survival, would have puzzled his audience too – it was superbly enacted here.
Another winner is the trunk, the misleading ‘trash’ container of clothes to snare Stephano and Trinculo, but earlier spilling photos and memories Prospero uses as aides-memoires for his daughter to rummage, leading to a convincing show of Miranda’s utter distraction whilst he long-winds out (mainly) his history – much to Prospero’s annoyance.
There are Quirke quirks, Gonzalo sensibly becomes Polly Swinscoe’s soulful Gonazla and Stephano (hence Caliban’s devotion) to even up gender a little. Ferdinand occasionally he thinks he’s scheming Sebastian, then turns a lascivious if mostly ardent suitor – Conor Baum generally holds his two well-defined selves discrete but needs to watch this. Sophia Carr-Gorm’s spirited, wonderstruck easily distracted Miranda slips from the axis of Seth Moran’s irascible but mercurial Prospero towards her lover with artless sexuality. There’s very fine physical work from Rory McDermott as a shape-shifting Caliban in a curious face-net in gymnast mode throughout (usually Ariel’s role) who nevertheless scrubs up gravely in Alonso’s suit. Scott Roberts adopts a Baldrick approach to Trinculo.
The moment of grace, where Ariel shows Prospero the way to forgiveness is still finely done, even if the recorded half (‘were I human’) of the dialogue cannot lend the kick of human agency two actors bring. Nevertheless, just as the Masque of Ceres evaporates into an ensemble break-dance, Moran’s quickly-turned clarion voice has a way of melting into thin air.
Prospero’s doesn’t however reach its apotheosis, is not set free. In a brusque dismissal the whole epilogue is cut; we see a naked feathered thing crawl out of the cellarage – Baum now incarnate as Ariel, though shorn too of ‘Where the bee sucks’ and indeed flight, so one’s anxious for his freedom too. A potential master-stroke, but after this Morgan, whose energy has commanded the centre, could easily have come out to speak his epilogue as genuine, outside the play’s parameters, restoring truth to it. It might seem a harmless cheek to lose it, but it wounds. Morgan himself in his ‘please you, draw near’ seems to try summoning up the phantom words sheared thereafter. Six characters in search of an ending haven’t quite reached it. Sorry Nick, a quirk too far.