I’ve been really wanting to see another Tempest for a long time. My first introduction to it was by playing Prospero, albeit in the 50’s style rock-and-roll jukebox musical adaptation of the play (no – really, it’s actually very good). A few years later I thought I’d give the real deal a go, but shamefully I didn’t enjoy it, to the point that I dropped off a little, despite it having a big budget and very well-known Shakespearean actors. But I just knew that there was going to be a way for me to really enjoy the play, because I think there’s the right adaptation of any Shakespeare for everyone’s taste, so I jumped at this opportunity to visit Jermyn Street Theatre. I had a feeling it would be pretty special as far as plays go; a labour of love that has been brought back after it originally opened but was forced to shut in March 2020.
This venue is a tiny haven of excellence tucked into the West End. Deservedly award-winning, it has only 70 seats and I can’t imagine there’s a single bad view in the house. For a play that I remember as being very expansive, I wondered how it would fit here. And in this small space I was sure to hear a whisper even from the back. However, the intimacy really transported me into the world presented.
The combination of the various production elements is superbly brought together by director Tom Littler. The sorcery and mystery of this isle is portrayed magically through the combination of well-crafted set (by Neil Irish and Annette Black) which has a surprising grandeur for a small space, along with the atmospheric lighting (by William Reynolds) and the enchanting sound and music (by Max Pappenheim). The way that these components work together is seamless and complementary in a really delightful way.
But these things only work so effectively because they serve to enhance what are some very engaging performances. The typically complex storylines are delivered skilfully, and the whole cast breathe vitality into their characters. I am loathe to, but I will mention an unfortunately distracting book of prompts used by Michael Pennington playing Prospero. While I understand that it might be needed and acknowledge it’s probably a brave choice to use it, I couldn’t help but want less glancing down, and to see Prospero standing without an open book sometimes, even if having the item is explainable for the character. Maybe my distraction was an unfortunate side-effect of the intimate venue, because I could see handwritten notes and highlighting. However I should stress that Pennington’s delivery of the lines was still expertly done.
Extra praise must go to all of the cast who played more than one character (Tam Williams, Peter Bramhill and Richard Derrington), which was done very well by all. The highlight performance for me, though, was Whitney Kehinde’s Ariel who was captivating and magical to watch. Every time she came on stage I did a little internal cheer. Despite my niggle, I’m now a Tempest lover thanks to this performance. There’s not many tickets left, go get one!
Written by: William Shakespeare
Directed by: Tom LIttler
Lighting by: William Reynolds
Composer & Sound Designer: Max Pappenheim
Movement Director: Julia Cave
The Tempest plays at Jermyn Street Theatre until 22 December. Further information and bookings via the below link.