The Tempest – Review

Mar 8 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩  Bristles with physicality

Ellie Deans as Ariel. Photo ©

Ellie Deans as Ariel. Photo ©

Pleasance Theatre
Tue 4 – Sat 8 March 2014
Review by Thom Dibdin

Roaring out onto the Pleasance Theatre’s specially constructed thrust stage, this is a Tempest which bristles with physicality and thrills knowingly with contemporary twists.

Director Jack Kinross takes a distinctly modern line on Shakespeare’s last play in this production from the Edinburgh University Shakespeare Society.

Designer Isobel Williams’ costumes are cleanly modern and stylish, while her skeletal, scaffolding set towers on the main stage with more than a nod to an oil drilling platform.

Fortunately, Kinross has not attempted to draw the play into the North Sea nor is he too strict in his contemporary interpretation of the script. It is a thoroughly Mediterranean setting, with his actors throwing themselves into the comedy available to them – and then some more.

His four Islanders are strongly drawn individuals whose motivations are clear. Which allows the main plot of magician Prospero’s reconciliation with his enemies to flow easily alongside the subplots of his daughter Miranda’s romance and the comic attempt by the vile native islander Caliban to unseat him.

The success of any production of The Tempest depends on a great performance from the actor playing Prospero, the ousted Duke of Milan who has been marooned on an island for a dozen years with his now 15 year-old daughter Miranda.

Sacha Timaeus delivers right from the opening moment of the production where his Prospero gives a huge gleeful laugh as he brings down his magic staff with a clatter – to summon up the tempest which will draw his various enemies to the isle and cause their ship to run aground.

It is a performance which both finds the necessary gravity of an older man and gives Prospero a level of humanity which is not always obvious in the role. There is comedy there, too, particularly in the unscripted asides and interactions with his magic servant, Ariel.

However, at times Timaeus is rather too much in awe of his lines. He delivers whole swathes of plot development at a lumbering pace when he needs to dance through it, setting up the plot.

“a strong undercurrent of sexual desire”

Ellie Deans gives a brilliantly physical performance as Ariel, conjuring the elements for her master and leaping around the stage with real agility. And she adds greatly to the part with a strong undercurrent of sexual desire for the clearly uninterested – and unaware – Prospero.

Alex Poole as a Machiavellian Sebastian. Photo ©

Alex Poole as a Machiavellian Sebastian. Photo ©

Hers is an almost feral presence, as she manipulates the various parties of Prospero’s enemies around the island. So much so, that any lack of the customary sweetness to her various songs seems quite appropriate.

Teenage temper tantrums come naturally to Poppy Weir’s Miranda. While Weir has enough presence to make Miranda’s depth of knowledge and understanding of the physical world around her believable, she is also easily capable of descending into a huff.

And when it comes to falling for Ferdinand, prince of Milan, Weir does a fantastic job of combining utter innocence – he is only the third man she has seen – with her natural intelligence and the flippant use of language learned from her father.

Equally as feral as Ariel, but in complete contrast to her cleverness, Joe Shaw gives a great cavorting performance as Caliban. He tumbles and buffoons his way through the subplot with Queen Alonsa of Milan’s drunken servants Stephano (Connor Jones) and Trinculo (Dean Joffe).

Nor is he all fun – there is a sneering unreconstructed viciousness to him so that the reported attempted rape of Miranda feels quite in keeping. Although the tumbling scenes with the three, resonate with exactly the right level of buffoonery.

The shipwrecked royal party, led by Lucile Taylor’s aloof Queen Alonsa, provide a solid backing to the main plot.

In a nice detail, Kinross has Laurie Motherwell’s Adrian as a heroic sub-SAS soldier type, running around ineffectually trying to protect his queen. Jon Oldfield makes the most of the unrewarding role of the elder statesman Gonzalo, pontificating around and full of waffle.

Will Hearle and Alex Poole are suitable conniving as Alonsa’s treacherous brother Sebastian and Prospero’s usurping brother Antonio. Poole, in particular, gives Sebastian a nicely Machiavellian streak as he leads the rather dim Antonio in an attempt on Alonsa’s crown. Yet, for all their sparkling sharp wit, neither is quite believable as a contender of substance.

Ferdinand is a thoroughly entertaining construction from Will Fairhead, a narcissistic, air-head yah. So much so, however, that you can’t really see him providing the sort of leadership which Prospero is attempting to bring to his role as Duke.

A production which succeeds hugely when it seeks to entertain. If it doesn’t quite manage to finesse the language at every turn, it ensures that there is always clarity. And if he has not quite found the nub of Shakespeare’s message of reconciliation director Jack Kinross has found – and manufactured – some great moments of comedy.

Running time 2 hours 40 mins.
Run ends Saturday 8 March
Pleasance Theatre, The Pleasance, 60 Pleasance, EH8 9TJ.
Daily 7.30pm


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