HAVING studied The Tempest for A Level 40 years ago, won a medal at the Bournemouth Festival for reciting Prospero’s valedictory speech, seen the play more than ten times since and followed the derivatory Return to the Forbidden Planet around the country when a friend was in the cast, I come to my favourite local theatre with high expectations.
I have never been disappointed with anything I have seen at The Swan, indeed, they even produce material that I do not particularly like at a level that defies and confuses any border between amateur and professional.
My level of expectation was satisfied completely by this slick, tight, accurate production, with a simple but well-used set, clever and functional costume, great use of projection, especially in the opening scene, directed with skill by Ian White. As Prospero, Alan Morris is excellent, able to show strength and vulnerability, humanity and spirituality in equal amounts, drawing us in with his earlier plot-setting speeches, setting the scene for us and engaging sympathy, so that we are on his side whatever he chooses to do with his subjects, having caused the storm of the title to bring them to his magical island. His valedictory speech, giving up his magic to return to his human kingdom, is powerful and yet still gentle, performed to perfection.
His spiritual servants, the airy Ariel, played by Ethan Taylor, and the earthy Caliban, Rachael Alexander in her second Shakespearean role this year after such a good Puck in Sherborne, both showed their mettle when challenging Prospero’s rule over them, with some excellent verse-speaking, especially in famous passages such as Caliban crying “to dream again”. Ariel was part of the storm scene, and Caliban was as close to the earth as she could get.
As their human counterparts, butler and jester Stephano and Trinculo, Joseph Travers and Richard Culham respectively, mirror the rebellion of the spirits, and these actors handled the slapstick of the discovery of Caliban beneath a gaberdine with great physical humour.
The rest of the human characters, mainly transported from their court in Italy, are true to their roles, all believable and with clear motivation and reason for anything they say or do – and although a few words needed prompting on the first night this is a cast at home with Shakespeare, directed with knowledge and awareness. Oliver Delafeld as Ferdinand, discovering love for the first time, and Elizabeth Lewis’s Miranda recognising beauty in the first man she meets other than her father, each play with great truth, and lines that I have known for most of my life were as fresh and natural as they should be, as if spoken for the first time.
This is Shakespeare as it should be, approachable, entertaining, thrilling and exciting, and as with anything I have seen at this wonderful theatre, this is the place to see it produced, directed and performed to near perfection. Well done to all involved.
Photographs by Pauline Dagnall