Following a successful 2018 season, with the return of Edward II and new shows Lord of the Flies & A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lazarus Theatre are continuing their Greenwich Theatre residency for another year. Their opening play is a new adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, directed by artistic director Ricky Dukes.
Prospero and her son Miranda are living on a mysterious island, along with the spirit Ariel and the maligned Caliban. One day, Prospero whips up a storm with her magical powers, bringing a ship full of royalty, family and enemies from her former life to the island shore – Prospero senses her chance to right some wrongs, and ensures the party is split into manageable factions. Prince Ferdinand ends up crossing Miranda’s path and, seeing the attraction between the pair, Prospero soon sets him to work as a test of his worthiness. Meanwhile, Caliban joins up with servants Stephano & Trinculo, and the royal party (including King Alonzo and Prospero’s sister Antonio) are uneasily making their way across the island into Prospero’s trap…
As ever, Lazarus Theatre have well and truly put their stamp on this famous play. Personally, I find The Tempest rather infuriating (and *whispers* a bit dull) – of all Shakespeare’s subplots, the ones we see here are possibly the most tedious. It’s a credit to this production that these sections are made more bearable (and even entertaining); most threads of the story have been retained, but the running time comes in around a comfortable two hours.
The re-gendering of characters definitely gives them the opportunity to be cast in a different light – particularly Miranda. I’ve actually seen a couple of female Prosperos before, but a male Miranda is a first. Though part of the character’s fascination with Ferdinand is due to Miranda never having seen a boy before, the fact remains that Miranda hasn’t really known that many people – and the feelings Ferdinand provokes in him are also strange & new. Prospero and Antonio being sisters also changes the dynamic of the relationship, making it a battle of wills on a more level playing field, rather than the obvious scenario of a brother overpowering his sister to usurp her title. The only thing when changing characters’ genders is to keep the text consistent; things like “sir” and “my lord” do need to be ironed out to save any confusion.
Some great work has been done in the design of this production: all the elements come together to really make you feel like you’ve been swept up on Prospero’s island. Sam Glossop’s sound design envelopes you as you enter the auditorium, and Bobby Locke’s compositions fit the tone nicely. Rachel Dingle’s set design is quite simplistic to look at, but it creates a bold effect with the central lit-up hexagon and a small pit below it which Caliban frequents – and Stuart Glover’s lighting design helps to colour the space, with particularly good results in the masque to celebrate Ferdinand & Miranda’s betrothal. Topping all this off is some dynamic direction from Dukes, with actors running in & out all around the audience, immersing you in the action once & for all.
Micha Colombo gives a commanding performance as Prospero, owning the room from the word go – she finely balances motherly affection with a majesty and power. Abigail Clay’s Ariel is a little OTT at times, though her energy and commitment to the character is admirable; David Clayton gives a memorable turn as drunken jester Trinculo, ending up in a very amusing outfit by the play’s end (and making some very funny asides). For me though, the standout performance comes from Alexander da Fonseca as Miranda – his gleeful exclamation of “O brave new world that has such people in’t!” is filled with an infectious enthusiasm, and really shows the hope this untainted individual represents for the future.
My verdict? A dynamic production of a potentially tedious play, bound together in a stark & bold design – Alexander da Fonseca gives a standout performance.
The Tempest runs at Greenwich Theatre until 16 February 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.