The are more "sounds" than "sweet airs" in Lazarus Theatre Company’s production of The Tempest at the Greenwich Theatre and while some elements of the performance "give delight" others tend to "hurt."
The first, ever-present issue is director Ricky Dukes’ decision to reverse the genders of Prospero (Micha Colombo) and Miranda (Alexander da Fonseca). Nothing is gained by this nor by making Antonio (Peace Oseyenum) into a sister. Furthermore it causes havoc with gender specific nouns and pronouns in the script. However, by keeping Ferdinand in his original male form it provides for a gay love affair and which is emotionally satisfying while also creating some interesting moments and additional humour from lines that ordinarily might not raise a laugh. Nevertheless, it remains a distraction from the main themes of the play and provides no new insights.
There is an intrinsic beauty in The Tempest that derives largely from the imagery of the verse and the poetry itself. Much of this is lost; initially in the way Colombo angrily launches into a monotone rant for most of the first act. While the text merits her anger the lines deserve more care. Similarly Fonseca as the manly, if slightly affected Miranda, fails to grasp the sensitive distress contained especially in the opening island scene. Georgina Barley as Caliban similarly omits to contrast the bitterness of "All the infection that the sun sucks up" with magical dreaminess of "The isle is full of noises." Annoyingly, "Milan" is pronounced throughout with the accent on the second syllable, again destroying the meter.
It is through the unlikely character of Stephano that the production comes alive. James Alston, making his debut with the company in this role, suddenly lifts the dialogue to a new level. His height is complemented by a resonant voice and clarity of enunciation that gives him a commanding presence and control of the stage. He eloquently delivers the humour from the outset of the drinking scene with Caliban aided by David Clayton as Trinculo. The ‘thin air’ magically produces an elegant drinking vessel for him, which at that moment suggested this production might indeed have been a storm in a teacup rather than a tempest, but is now on track to weather the elements. From hereon the action seems more controlled and the text more fully appreciated. Colombo’s Prospero is calmer as she grasps that ‘the rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance’. This new-found clarity of purpose carries over to act two which opens with a delightful nuptual ceremony enmeshed within an adapted banquet scene. Here the lighting and sound, designed respectively by Stuart Glover and Sam Glossop continue to effectively enhance the action as they do throughout.
Spectacle, however, is no substitute for substance. Words are not wasted in Shakespeare: iambs and trochees, blank verse and rhyming couplets and pentameters and tetrameters are employed for a purpose and need to be appreciated. If the company’s "project (was) to please" it needs more "art to enchant".