The unique selling point in this production of The Tempest is an all-female cast (though I note, without further comment on this point, that the director, producer and musical director are all men).
It’s not the first time it’s been done – the Donmar Warehouse staged a trilogy of Shakespeare plays with an all-female cast: the other two were Julius Caesar and Henry IV, staged in 2012 and 2014 respectively, with The Tempest following in 2016. It’s an interesting concept, however; as you know, female characters were originally played by boys in Shakespeare’s day.
An uncluttered stage (there are some props, but not many) gives the script a chance to shine. Less is more, and the audience is required to deploy some imagination, ably assisted by the usual pops and whizzes of sound effects and lighting changes. There’s some actor-musicianship to enjoy, too, though the use of recorded music in other scenes to create a certain atmosphere made me wonder if the musician skills of the cast were under-utilised.
Jo Bartlett leads the cast as Prospero, and given that Prospero is a duke in exile, the sense of anger at having lost the dukedom, and subsequent fiendish desire for retaliation, isn’t very convincing. The lines are all there, but there are no outbursts. So, assuming no prior knowledge of the play, it is difficult to ascertain from this production quite why Prospero is instructing the spirit Ariel (Carmella Brown) to do this, that and the other – where’s the malicious intent? And if the spiritual world can be summoned to assist in reinstating the dukedom to its rightful owner, there must be less convoluted ways than this to restore equilibrium.
But that would make for an even shorter play, and as it is, the cast rattles through the five acts at quite a pace. Alonso, King of Naples (Orla Sanders) is more subdued than the all too measured Prospero – when the two meet face to face in Act V, it is, I regret to report, far from a riveting exchange. Speeches in the House of Lords about parliamentary grievance procedures have been delivered with more passion. Caliban (Kate Sketchley), Stephano (Ceri Ashe) and Trinculo (Kimberley Capero) proved far more compelling than the leads. The standout performances came from Antonio (Shereener Browne) and Ferdinand (Hannah Jessop), full of conviction in their portrayals of their characters, and with good stage presence.
Somewhat lost is the disproportionate aggressiveness afforded to Caliban by Prospero, the latter not seemingly treating (or rather mistreating) the former any better or worse than any other servant. Caliban, therefore, comes across as unnecessarily callous, and his own (thwarted) counter-attack superfluous. Much of the audience found reason to laugh at certain points, though to start listing examples would be giving too much away, except to say, for those familiar with The Tempest, the laughs are in the ‘right’ places.
The costumes could have made more of a distinction between rulers, legitimate or not, and the ruled – aside from Miranda (Michelle Pittoni) and Caliban, the characters are dressed very similarly. I couldn’t help but smile, too, at the wooden swords. Fortunately or unfortunately, they were ‘drawn’ but no sword fights took place – and I’m still not sure whether wooden clumps instead of metal clinks would have been a delight or just ridiculous. Still, a good effort overall in a satisfactory but slightly too subtle production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Beware the spirits of the air, the monsters of the earth and the wrath of dangerous sorcerers.
Suspended in time on an enchanted island, Duke Prospero lives in exile, comforted by his daughter Miranda and served by his sprite Ariel and Caliban, his slave.
With nothing to do Prospero becomes obsessed by revenge. When storms wash up new travellers to these shores, vengeance, at last, seems within reach. But with the arrival of strangers, Miranda discovers temptations of the flesh, and Caliban plots to murder his master.
Controlled Chaos’s all-female production of The Tempest shakes the ground with its bold re-imagining of William Shakespeare’s final dark comedy.
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep”
The Creative Team
Playwright | William Shakespeare Composer | Nicholas Dunkley & Michael J Ansley
Director | Dylan Lincoln Sound Design | Michael J Ansley
Producer | Paul Anthoney
Prospero – Jo Bartlett, Miranda – Michelle Pittoni, Caliban – Kate Sketchley, Ariel – Carmella Brown, Ferdinand – Susanna Wolff, Sebastian – Mimi Edwards, Antonio – Shereener Browne, Gonzalo – Alma Reising, Trinculo – Kimberley Capero, Stephano – Ceri Ashe, Alonso – Orla Sanders, Ceres, Iris, Juno – Helga Ragnars, Boatswain – Afsana Sayyed.
by William Shakespeare
produced by Controlled Chaos UK
Tuesday 13 February – Saturday 3 March 2018
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre,
410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH