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Sparky, streamlined take on Shakespeare's final play
Where the RSC has thrown cutting-edge digital wizardry at its current production of ‘The Tempest’, this smaller scale version at Southwark Playhouse goes right back to basics.
Adapted and directed by Amy Draper, it’s the theatre’s annual Shakespeare play for school-aged audiences. The tale of the betrayed Prospero’s magic-aided reclaiming of his title of Duke of Milan on a desert island is now a snappy 90 minutes.
A few characters have fallen by the wayside, but it’s impressive how much is left intact – even a blessedly shorter version of the wedding masque for Miranda, Prospero’s daughter, and the washed-up Prince Ferdinand. And a literally straitjacketed Ariel (Peter Caulfield), lurking on the outskirts of scenes, makes for a striking, forlorn presence.
Draper’s skilful adaptation focuses on growing up, letting go and forgiveness. But while family strife takes the lead, the fantastical isn’t reduced to the tritely domestic. Instruments left around the stage and played by the cast provide a lo-fi, satisfyingly imaginative soundscape for a magic isle.
The storytelling is clear, funny and nicely signposted by costume changes, as the majority of the six-strong cast switch between roles. Each actor gets to impress, with Benjamin Cawley’s endearingly gawky Ferdinand and Gemma Lawrence’s geezer-ish Trincula standing out.
Sarah Malin’s Prospero is quieter and gentler than some interpretations, never really demanding the limelight. But her lack of bombast suits the intimacy of Southwark’s studio space and the tone of this thoughtful production, which forgoes fancy special effects for characters you really root for.