"Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows." Act II, scene ii
|The Company of Ten ; January 26, 2007 St Albans, UK|
Reviewed on : 2007-01-29 17:38:53 ; Reviewed by : Wendy Attwell
|Whenever I go to see a production of The Tempest, I always anticipate with excitement finding out what the director has made of Ariel in terms of attitude, casting and costume. Will the airy spirit be excitable or morose, male or female? In this production by the Abbey Theatre's own Company of Ten players, director David Stone employs an interesting variation on what has become a rather traditional interpretation of Ariel. Fiona Lester is a slim figure in a floaty blue costume, wafting her magic about. But with the line 'sometime I'ld divide, And burn in many places' another Ariel appears, identical to the first. Claire Millins becomes the other half of the divided Ariel, and the spirits mirror one another, sharing and dividing lines throughout the play. Lester and Millins play Ariel as mischievous and conspiratorial, enthusiastically enchanting the wrecked party at Prospero's behest. The only slight criticism I have is that Millins and Lester often smile and giggle at each other, and this is more suggestive of two separate entities, thereby lessening the impact of one character split into two.
Terry Price is a rather mild-mannered Prospero, who has retained his sense of dignity, despite being subjected to the savagery of the island. Abi Wilson gives us a slightly sullen Miranda, later brightening her disposition when she meets Ferdinand (Dug Williams), but still maintaining an air of well-mannered reservedness. Will Franklin, with his public-school accent, upright stance and slightly puzzled air, makes a fascinating Caliban. Imagine a raggedy Hugh Grant but with less of a clue. Even his usually shocking line of 'I had peopled else This isle with Calibans' came across more as a plea for a wife rather than an admission of attempted rape. It was clear that although Miranda loathed him she was not afraid of him. In fact the opposite was true: he cowered in fear from her. I felt rather sorry for him as he told Prospero 'This island's mine'.
The set was simple but effective, with trees and Caliban's shack on one side, and screens showing various projected images across the back. The audience made up the third and fourth wall of the box in a semi-round stage arrangement. I wholly approve of an uncluttered set, as it allows both audience and cast to better focus on the action of the play. The costumes were of simple design, and I was impressed by the 'fresh' African wedding outfits worn by Alonso and his party.
This production has a specially written score: a blend of Jacobean and contemporary music, by composer David Green. It is lovely to hear Ariel sing her various enchantments and adds an extra depth of magic to an otherworldly place. However, at times the incidental music was extremely intrusive, and when played over the action made it very hard to concentrate on the actors speaking. I would like to see this music used more boldly, and played to tighter cues between scenes, allowing an atmosphere to build up before the players return to the stage.
There were other weak points: a wandering accent, speech a little too rushed, comic timing not quite spot on, and perhaps rather too static in terms of action. But overall this is an enjoyable enough production of a well loved play, and one which still manages to throw up some pleasant surprises despite a traditional approach to the text. In an inspired ending, the play closes not with Prospero's epilogue, but with Caliban picking up Prospero's broken staff, and gleefully singing his way offstage as a free man and new lord of the island.
Matthew William Peters, 1741-1814
Near the Cell of Prospero
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