Pros: A unique, ethereally eerie theatre space. Watching a Shakespeare play whilst sat next to the original site of an Elizabethan theatre… pretty cool!
Cons: The production could do with a lot of fine-tuning. The cast and crew create a very effective, visually exciting show which they negate with some silly faux pas.
A walk along the South Bank on a warm night might lead you to the Globe, but if you stray from the tourist-trodden path, down the narrow streets and out of the Thames’ eyeline, you’ll find the ruins of an Elizabethan theatre, and a truly spectacular space to watch a show. The archaeological site of The Rose Playhouse sits underground; a cavernous, eerie space filled with water and smelling of earth.
The theatre lends itself well to The Tempest; the murky pool of water that preserves the earth underneath the archaeological site makes the balcony performing area the perfect island for Shakespeare’s tale of stranded mortals on their supernatural journey.
Overall, Sea-change Theatre’s production was enjoyable. The setting would elevate any play to a new height, as it did this one, but it was a Friday night well spent. Shakespeare’s mythical invention of cast-away creatures, mortal and otherwise, is perhaps the play most open to interpretation and thoughtful adaptation. This production featured an all-female cast, which worked very successfully. Strong performances were provided by the cast, with special effort given by the non-mortals. Marianne Hyatt’s Prospero was a strength, although some vocal projection would not have gone amiss. In a space that is essentially a cave, the acoustics are a bit unusual and at times the show suffered from some clarity issues. Using the back of the archaeological site as the shipwreck worked well, but the dialogue was a little lost at the beginning.
The costumes were a standout element in the show. The actors clearly identified closely with their characters, as movement was a key strength throughout. Lottie Vallis’ Sycorax, in an earthy, almost boulder-like ensemble, moved with a Gollum-esque quality throughout. She committed extremely well to her character, her presence adding to the other-worldly aura of the show. The costumes looked like wearable works of art and were incredibly well matched to each character. It was a real treat to see such thoughtful costumes that really did the setting justice.
One of my main criticisms is that three or four times in the show, a woman – who I later discovered to be the director – walked onto the stage to aid the lighting, using a small projector to create visual effects. Whilst the effects were very good, it was nigh on impossible to ignore a non-actor in plain clothes standing next to a supernatural creature adorned head to toe with bones. In my opinion, there is no justification for an effect which kills the momentum of a show to provide ten seconds of lighting – that almost certainly could be achieved with the lights already rigged, or even just by standing on the sidelines. It really let the show down to have the mood of several scenes broken.
There were a few other elements that brought the show down a level. There was some stumbling with lines, which I empathise with, but ultimately it does make an audience nervous. In a scene fraught with sexual tension, with Fever playing in the background and intensity building slowly, the sound operator had a slip of the hand; as the song cut out and we heard him tut, we were plucked out of the land of lust and plunged into the realm of reality.
All in all, the production was an enjoyable one. The cast and crew made a visible effort to utilise the space and the ready-made unusual atmosphere. Some tightening of the screws would make a much more solid show.
Author: William Shakespeare
Adapted by: Sue Frumin
Director: Ray Malone
Produced by: Sea-change Theatre
Box Office: 020 7261 9565
Booking Link: http://www.roseplayhouse.org.uk/events/event/tempest-william-shakespeare-2017-07-02/
Booking Until: 2 July 2017