Stafford Festival Shakespeare’s annual production in the shadow of Stafford Castle is fast becoming one of the foremost annual Shakespeare productions in the country, and for good reason. Not only does the castle create a truly impressive backdrop, but the creative and imaginative approach to Derek Gask’s production in placing each narrative in a different point throughout history brings a unique take on some of Shakespeare’s most performed work.
This year’s production, The Tempest, has been lovingly shaped to drop the audience right into the 1930’s Italy. We are treated to a more modern opening featuring music and dance, used to great effect to invoke the atmosphere of the calm before the eponymous storm. When the storm does hit the unfortunate travellers, the traditional dialogue begins in earnest, sharply contrasted by the modern dress, set and effects. For the remainder of the opening act, we are introduced to Prospero, deposed Duke of Milan, (Coronation Street's Stephen Becket) who rules his remote island kingdom alongside his daughter, Miranda (Grace Carter) and his two servants; the son of the witch Sycorax, Caliban (Zephryn Taitte) and the seemingly all-powerful spirit, Ariel (Gavin Swift), who does Prospero’s bidding in return for the promise of freedom. As we watch the marooned travellers discover the Island one by one, the drama more or less unfolds in the traditional sense, with the exception of vivid and colourful costume choices.
The second act reaches a fine dramatic climax and is well acted by all of the principals. In particular the comedic punctuations of Stefano (Jonathan Charles) and is relationship with Trinculo (James Hornsby) and Caliban, who decides to take Stefano as his new God and master.
Prospero is one of Shakespeare’s most definitive characters and has been portrayed by some of the brightest stars in the British theatre pantheon. TV Veteran Stephen Becket is a worthy addition to this long line and gives a fine performance, capturing all the different facets of the character’s personality. The sudden transitions between doting father to embittered exile to menacing sorcerer were all well-judged and he commanded the stage from start to finish. Another highlight was Gavin Swift’s menacing lurking performance. He spent much of the play in the background yet was always a presence which it was hard to ignore. Swift is also a talented musician and dancer and uses the latter to bring a great physicality to the role.
Setting the play in the 1930’s was extremely creative and was done so with an extremely deft touch, the bulk of the that which marked the setting as being in this period comes at the beginning.
The costuming is an eclectic mixture of period costume, military uniform and shaman-esque robes and props which represent all of the supernatural elements of the story. The special effects and illusions bring a different aspect to it which definitely pleased the packed house.
The Tempest is an imaginative take on Shakespeare’s classic and will hopefully delight both real Shakespeare aficionados with its contemplative exploration of the shows themes, as well as first-timers who will undoubtedly enjoy the humour in this fine production.
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