Angry, aggressive and animalistic. Richard Nutter's Caliban, seized the attention of the audience with his knuckled hands, twisted body and taut tirades as he sprung like a dismembered sheep in his ripped white fleece from a trap door in the stage. It was powerful, gripping and an authentic performance in an uneven production.
Platform 4's contribution to the Shakespeare Unplugged season at the Theatre Royal Bath was a three-handed interpretation of The Tempest directed and designed by Simon Plumridge.
Performed in the Ustinov Studio, the production utilised a large wooden boxed set with wide multi-partitioned doors. When opened, the doors turned into a space that represented a room and a multi-purpose space. At once a ship crashing upon rocks, then Prospero's living room, the bare island and also an intimate and unspecified place for thoughts and dreams. On the floor of the distressed timber set was a large chess board set within a circular area of the stage – and it was to this area that the action frequently returned.
The actors used the chess pieces to help explain the rest of the story in an intimate and at times comic way – and as a technique it helped to strip down the play to its core narrative elements of character, magic and nature.
A brave and creative version with high technical production values
Using a soundscape by Jules Bushel of water in all its natural visitations to island earth and much coordinated physical movement, this is a mesmerising 90 minutes of theatre. Together with music, birdsong and the windswept isle, the affect was to fill the auditorium with a mystical and magical mood. It was enhanced by the precise and evocative lighting of Helen Morley which so neatly changed with the fleeting thoughts of the characters.
Ralf Higgins as Prospero entered the stage as if he had wandered off the street. He slowly grew into the character giving full voice to the magician's speeches, although his performance was held back by the slow pace of this production which relied too much on atmosphere.
Tamsin Fessey as Miranda and Ariel was also hampered by the pace, while Higgins's Caliban had the energy to break out of the dreamlike structure. Mood and magic were achieved, but perhaps too much of the story was scrapped in order to accommodate its brevity. At best brilliant. At times too slow.
An echo on the voice of Ariel (doubled with Miranda) had an eerie and spooky effect – and coupled with just a change of body shape and gesture, meant Fessey could move effortlessly between the characters. The other double was Nutter's Caliban and Ferdinand. This was even more dramatic due to the vast physical differences in style. Nutter's Ferdinand was romantic but almost insipid in his dreamy sequences with Miranda.
A brave and creative version with high technical production values, but somehow losing a little of the story's depth in its quest for Prospero's dream-like island.
Ustinov Theatre (at the Theatre Royal Bath)
Reviewed: 12 March 2010
Runs: 16-17 March, Unity Theatre, Liverpool.
19 March, Hangar Farm, Southampton.