Shakespeare in the Garden: The Tempest

Of all Shakespeare’s plays, The Tempest demands the most obvious and taxing effort of imagination from the audience. In Shakespeare’s wooden Globe in the heart of the metropolis, we are told to imagine a huge storm in a raging sea and a magical island peopled with spirits. C Theatre’s decision to move the action into a garden, surrounding the audience with colour and nature, renders our task somewhat lighter. The play’s spirits, lead by an addictively charismatic and cheeky Ariel portrayed by Charlotte Cracknell, blend seamlessly into the garden’s bushes and flowers. This, along with Cracknell’s hypnotic singing voice and fun accompanying live music from various members of the cast, instills a significant air of magic that persists throughout the piece.

A good introduction to Shakespeare for kids, as well as a light-hearted while cultured day out for adults.

The decision to cast a female Prospero (Jennifer McEvoy), who is traditionally one of Shakespeare’s grand old men alongside King Lear and Macbeth, elicits a refreshingly original dynamic between her and Miranda. Paternal shielding is exchanged for a deeper maternal tenderness, which renders an entirely different emotional experience. Rather than the traditional Prospero, wrathful and tyrannical, we see a Prospera that is sensitive, wide-eyed and optimistic, throwing the character into a whole new light. Moreover, the simultaneous themes of oppressed and marginalised women, and an all-powerful woman, radically challenge certain poisonous prejudices and societal norms. However, in what is inherently a political text, this interpretation’s politics stopped short here.

The production established the potential to dig deep into the play’s imperialistic theme, seemingly using its casting to question the power dynamics of race between Prospera and Caliban. However, the reimagining of Caliban as a punk-rocking sulky adolescent, while amusing, detracted from the tragedy of the character’s colonial persecution and the significance of his unparalleled lyricism.

Another missed opportunity comes with the show’s portrayal of Stephano as a suave, fabulously camp and handsomely clad fashionista. Stephano is a servant, a man who all his life has been worn down by serving others and receiving orders, whose dual consolations are drink and a wild imagination. To ignore this is to ignore the play’s crucial focus on class and hierarchy and their lethal consequences. The lack of development in Gonzalo’s character, who is arguably one of the most important moral forces in the play, was as disappointing as the lack of subtlety in the styling of Antonio and Sebastian as comically stereotypical villains.

A moment of heartwarming tenderness is present in Ferdinand and Miranda’s, as well as Stephano and Trinculo’s, first interactions. The masterstroke of casting the same actors to play the roles in both pairs created an invigorating parallel seldom explored, pointing, perhaps, to the dual forces of innocent love and ignorance that drive both relationships.

However, multi-roling did not always work in the show’s favour. It meant the play’s closing scenes were clumsily reordered, disjointed and structurally confused. This shattered any trace of the all-important unifying finality that is a core part of Shakespeare’s last play, seeing all characters together onstage in a final redemptive scene. In spite of this, the production brought out in its fullness the fact that The Tempest is, first and foremost, a fun play. It is a play where we are constantly entertained by layers of deception, dramatic irony, false senses of power and hysterical raucous and drunk behaviour. The show is a good introduction to Shakespeare for kids, as well as a light-hearted while cultured day out for adults.

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The Blurb

Enjoy alfresco Shakespeare in the C south gardens. Let us cast you away to our magical island, where Prospera is plotting her revenge… With her enemies in sight the scene is set: music, magic and murderous mischief abounds. Bring a picnic or bar available onsite. The performance will take place indoors in the event of heavy rain. Outdoor Shakespeare at its best from Fringe favourites C theatre: ‘A joy to watch’ **** (ThreeWeeks). ‘Capturing the emotional heart’ **** (List).