Pros: Strong creative vision, design and execution by cast; very easy to follow.
Cons: Sometimes sequences were too long, and the show is unsuitable for those affected by strobe lighting.
Considered to be Shakespeare’s ‘farewell’ play, The Tempest charts the shipwreck of King Alonso of Naples (played this time by Will Hobby), his son Ferdinand and brother Sebastian (both played by Matt Penson), advisor Gonzalo (Joseph Rynhart) and the Duchess of Milan, Antonio (Jess Levinson Young) on an island. The storm that stranded them there was caused by sorceress Prospero (Aimee Kember) who seeks revenge on the group after being overthrown by her sister, Antonio, twelve years earlier and cast out to sea with her daughter, Miranda (also played by Levinson Young). Untold Theatre and Yellowbelly Theatre use the backdrop of a dystopian 2020 for this adaptation, in which the current refugee crisis has led to a very hostile Europe. Noteworthy also are the subplots surrounding Caliban (Hobby), Prospero and Miranda’s monstrous slave who tries to kill Prospero after becoming besotted with Stephano (Rynhart), Alonso’s butler; and the budding romance between innocent Miranda and loveable Ferdinand.
The venue, Platform Islington, was rather difficult to find (I ended up at King’s Cross when I should have been in Holloway— but I’ll blame that on GPS). However, once I got there it was clear that the venue— with its simple urban basement set up— is a rare city gem. The staff also cultivated a welcoming atmosphere by being polite and helpful to all.
Together, the small cast showcase an incredible range in their acting, with every actor having multiple and contrasting roles. Kember stands out particularly, and her gender-swapped Prospero feels natural and original due to her eccentricity and motherly chemistry with Miranda. Nevertheless, Hobby’s memorable Caliban really steals the show, as his use of movement to characterise untamed Caliban makes it easier for the audience to distinguish between Hobby as Caliban and Hobby as the grieving Alonso.
The design for this adaptation is simple and abstract. Yet costume and set designer Grace Nobel’s work is powerful in conveying the performance’s strong message about the need to tackle the refugee crisis in Europe. The ending soliloquy — written originally for Prospero — is delivered by the whole cast after they’ve arranged the set to form what could have been an asylum seeker’s belongings. This makes those fatal words ‘and my ending is despair, unless I be relieved by prayer’ all the more hard hitting. It’s not all doom and gloom, though, as there are elements of humour throughout the production . An example is a hilarious scene in which Caliban and drunkard Trinculo struggle with each other underneath a tent.
The wow factor in this production, however, is the cast’s dedication and the production’s technical ingenuity that uses multimedia to its advantage. The sequences of verbatim news reels go on for a little too long at times, but nonetheless help to bring The Tempest into a modern setting. The magic in the play works surprisingly well, as it’s presented in a clever way: by incorporating physical theatre, lighting and sound effects. It left me both inspired and spellbound.
Unfortunately, this show has now completed its UK tour, but do look out for future productions by both Untold Theatre and Yellowbelly Theatre. They are sure to be as powerful as they are wondrous.
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Will Hobby
Producers: Untold Theatre and Yellowbelly Theatre
Booking Information: This show has now completed its run.