Theatre Review: The Tempest – Tabacco Factory, Bristol

This production has a split personality. Close your eyes and listen to the rich soundscape of Dan Jones and Carlo Ippolito; open them and see the barest of sets.

A rope and swinging lantern for the shipwreck and not even a branch or a twig to denote the island.

Close your eyes again and listen to a spitting angry Caliban (Christopher Staines), open them and realise the spirit Ariel is also played by Staines. His transformation from grim to prim is worth the ticket money alone – a perfect example of physical acting for any aspiring actor.

Played in the round between the industrial building's pillars the cast directed by Andrew Hilton, produce a lyrical and masculine version of Shakespeare's last romance, for the only female is a Peter Pan-like Ffion Jolly. Her boyish hairstyle and wide-eyed wonderment at the sight of blond beach boy heart-throb Ferdinand (sexy Benjamin Askew) is the only nod in femininity's direction in the Shakespeare in the Tobacco Factory show.

The doubling of Ariel and Caliban worked, but it certainly increased the workload for Christopher Staines who accomplished the Jeckle and Hyde flip from aggrieved slave to whimsical flighty spirit with aplomb.

Chris Donnelly as the butler Stephano was hugely enjoyable as the drunk, as he bumbled along in high heels in the comic monster scene

Ian Barritt's Prospero was more grumpy Old Testament prophet with his rustic staff and robes than whimsical magician. His most telling rages were stunningly lit by Matthew Graham in the final act as he took full control of the story of revenge and forgiveness, romance and redemption.

Dressed in Elizabethan doublet and hose, Peter Clifford and Alan Coveney, enjoyed themselves as the treacherous Antonio and Sebastian as they idly discussed killing their fellow ship wrecked survivors. And Chris Donnelly as the butler Stephano was hugely enjoyable as the drunk, as he bumbled along in high heels in the comic monster scene with the deeply-voiced Trinculo played by Felix Hayes – an actor who has taken full possession of this theatrical space this season with his third outstanding role since Christmas.

John Nicholas as doddery Gonzalo also added depth to the minor characters – a notable feature of the drama – as did Jonathan Nibbs as Alonso and Jack Hardwick as Adrian. For in this intimae theatre where the audience is so close to the action these smaller roles seem to have added potency – and their professional execution was a joy.

Tobacco Factory, Bristol, until May 1
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Andrew Hilton
Producer: Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory
Cast includes: Ian Barritt, Christopher Staines, Ffion Jolly, Benjamin Askew, Chris Donnelly, John Nicholas, Jonathan Nibbs.

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