Review: The Tempest @ Rudolf Steiner House

This review was originally written for A Younger Theatre

It feels slightly sacrilegious, particularly three days before the 400th anniversary of his death (like you didn’t know that…), to strike a dissonant note against the relentless bardolatry, but here goes. I think The Tempest is actually a bit of a dud. It’s not particularly funny, it’s not particularly romantic, it’s not particularly moving, and it’s not particularly sad. This opinion formed when I was made to study it in high school, and not one of the raft of productions I have seen over the ensuing years has proved me wrong. PerformInternational’s classical staging at Rudolf Steiner House didn’t either.

Geoffrey Norris directs an international cast led by Richie Donaldson’s brusque, resonant Prospero. Bedecked in a natty period suit and a swirling, powder-blue cloak, Donaldson strides the stage emphatically, but his emotional range is minimal and the rhythm of his speech relentlessly pedestrian. A tri-headed, multi-coloured Ariel (Lindsey Jacobs, Aïsha Kent, Bow Goudkamp) prances around him sensuously, but there is no rich history, no tangible love or resentment to their relationship.

Elsewhere, Manish Srivastava is an enjoyably crab-like, animalistic Caliban, his emotions raw and powerful like his guffawing laugh. He gallivants around energetically with Michael Claff’s laddish Stephano and Alexander Yousri’s stroppy Trinculo, but for all their proficiency – this trio’s scenes are perhaps the production’s most polished – there is little to laugh at, and the pathos of Caliban’s fawning over Stephano’s feet is never explored. There is good work from Mamet Leigh as Gonzalo, a stooping old man with a penchant for wittering away, and from Eshy Moyo and Robert Land as the scoffing traitors Antonio and Sebastian. These are rare highlights, however, in a production otherwise unremarkable for its acting.

Director Norris is credited, along with Emma Caller, for set design, but in reality there is little to credit. It must be that PeformInternational’s coffers were running dry, for the drab curtains and nondescript blocks that make up the set smack of being cobbled together on a budget, which somewhat removes them from the realm of criticism. They are what they are: nothing more, nothing less. Caller’s costumes, though, are a chirpily flamboyant mix of feathers, cloaks and swords.

The sounds and sweet airs of Hedi Pinkerfield’s live music, an ethereal blend of tinkling guitar and sonorous cymbals blends beautifully with the bubbling international accents on stage, lending the room mystical, magical quality. A visual spectacle PerformInternational’s Tempest is not – particularly when factoring in the occasional lighting blunder – but it is a delectable treat for the ears nonetheless.

Truth be told, why anyone would choose to see The Tempest, in any production, is beyond me. Although Prospero’s closing speech – Shakespeare’s own sign-off from playwriting – has poignancy, and his subjugation of the island’s native creatures can have a powerful colonialist reading for modern audiences, there is just not enough laughter, or tears, or war, or tragedy for me. PerformInternational’s nondescript production, although it has a few redeeming qualities, has only entrenched this belief further.

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