The Tempest - 28.11.16
On a sparse set that makes the most of the underground atmosphere at the Print Room, turning the elements and island itself into another character of the play, the carefully-laid plans of Prospero unfurl, for an audience that feels remarkably intimate despite its substantial size.
Plunged into chaotic hubbub at the start, Prospero’s exposition leads you into the action of the play proper; the relationship between him and Miranda entirely believable in its closeness and tenderness—as is his occasional gruff frustration with his daughter’s starry-eyed wonder at Ferdinand, the first young man she has ever seen. The cast play these moments of levity well, fondly hinting at the foolish enthusiasm of youth to the audience, without ever becoming cynical.
In fact it is the scenes of this little family unit—and their peripherals Ariel, Caliban and, then, Ferdinand—that play the strongest overall. Perhaps this is due to the subject-matter being the most intimate and domestic, giving this stage time a quality that is not found in the wrangling and plotting over affairs of state or the carousing antics that we see in the other two groups of storm survivors. Kristin Winters’ Ariel is particularly mesmerising, with each detail well-considered, from gait and physical affectations to vocal tone and cadence, and she forms a magnetic presence on the stage—every bit Prospero’s equal even while she serves him.
In those other groups, King Alonso stands out as a weighty presence, grey curls echoing the turbulence of the very air and, indeed, of his mind, with Gonzalo a good lighter tonal counterpoint.
The Tempest is in its entirety weighted around tonal contrasts, in fact, flitting like Ariel himself from acts of fantastical magic to stolid issues of governance, from a celestial world of nature spirits to an all-too-human history of violence and injustice, from high emotion to extended fooling. The minimal set and intensity of the environment accentuate the actors’ portrayals of feelings running high, despair, hope and ambition battling it out in their figures as the clouds fight overhead.
While some plot lines seem to attract less focus than usual—for instance Caliban’s development—the production overall feels more coherent than many Tempests, a brooding sense of unease stretching throughout and unifying its many disparate strands. Even at the happy denouement, the sense is not quite one of closure, but slight uncertainty.
It is a few hours well-spent, not least for the beautiful environment of the Coronet, which deserves more than just a mention: the oldest surviving example of W.G.R. Sprague’s theatrical architecture in London, the Grade II listed building has taken various forms over the years, until The Print Room took it over in summer 2014. They are working on long-term renovations but already the effect of the place is charming; the bar area feels like a private library, littered with books, sculptures and pictures, the drinks—when we were there—served off a grand piano. The right mix of cosy and sophisticated, we wanted to stay all night.