Monday, 17 December 2012

The Tempest - review

Written by: Elodie Vidal (@ElodieVidal)

Lion and Unicorn Theatre, London

Where has dreadful pub theatre gone? Seeing Grassroots Shakespeare London’s current production of The Tempest makes you wonder if it ever really existed. The company gets to the heart of Shakespeare with ease beyond its young age. Its combination of traditional practices, modern references, and stellar performances is of the kind that rekindles your taste for the Bard. And it’s not like you haven’t been warned: the evening’s opening – a sung introduction to the company that also begs spectators to switch off their mobile phone - promises a show at once dynamic and faithful to the spirit of Shakespeare’s work.

In this production, Prospero’s megalomania, power and thirst for revenge do not turn him into a despotic sorcerer, but into a smooth politician. Matthew Walker’s polished performance drives home the character’s modern relevance by playing him in a very composed fashion, often assuming the posture of a public speaker but rarely raising his voice. As for Caliban, his costume, makeup and speech can evoke in turn homelessness, foreignness or learning disability, thus broadening the role’s representation of oppressed minorities. There’s also a surprise appearance by Batman, whose trouble keeping up his gruff voice clearly references a host of YouTube parody videos. Yes. Batman.

Photo: Grassroots Shakespeare London
Every Shakespearian production worth the name includes charismatic performances, and The Tempest delivers. Emily Jane Kerr breathes new life into Shakespeare’s comedic characters as Stephano/Juno, her imposing stage presence justifying the gender-blind casting. As for the figure of the sweet and innocent maid, it finds in Daisy Ward’s performance a pitch-perfect expression. The lighting comes in to underline the acting prowess, accentuating every emotion and providing a quality of spectacle that’s surprising for a venue the size of the Lion and Unicorn. In particular, the simple but effective use of strobe lights in the opening scene gives the eponymous tempest the disturbing and cruel aspect it deserves; the final lighting effect, which leaves Prospero partially lit for a minute before the blackout, conveys all the character’s magic and engraves the show into the audience’s memory.

Photo: Grassroots Shakespeare London
In any case, this production of The Tempest is an absolute joy. When many still struggle to grasp Shakespeare’s oeuvre, either sacralising or oversimplifying it, Grassroots Shakespeare London hits the nail right on the head. 

This production runs until 5 January 2013. 
@GiantOlive @GrassrootsLON

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