Review: Article19 Presents: The Tempest

Posted By on March 9, 2017

‘A deserted island. A parent and their child scavenge for food. A lonely native slave collects wood for their fire. A mischievous fairy race runs rife. And a shipwrecked group of noblemen soon discover that this island is far less deserted than they thought. 

Article19 Theatre Company is delighted to present William Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. Dark, comic, and beautiful, the play is the culmination of Shakespeare’s greatest works, looking at humans pushed to the very limit. Power, and the quest to get it, is a more slippery fiend than any of them anticipated.’

William Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’, performed by members of the Article19 theatre society at the University of Birmingham, was a spectacle to say the least. Performing Shakespeare is never an easy feat, but this production managed to handle the tricky content of the bard’s last play with relative ease.

To begin with, credit must go most emphatically to the production team behind this performance:

DIRECTOR – Jack Davies
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR & DESIGNER – Phoebe Ruttle
PRODUCER – Antonia Parker Smith
STAGE MANAGER – Katie Logie
COMPOSER – Aron Sood
ASMs – Lois Saunders, Natalia Catechis, Annie Kershaw

Stefano (Alex Wilcox) in action

Stefano (Alex Wilcox) in action

A production team is one that is most commonly overlooked in performance, however this time, credit must go where credit is due. The staging of this performance was incredible, with the Debating Hall at the Guild of Students being believably transformed into Prospero’s island. Netting covered the ceiling, and plants and vines were woven throughout the stage space to create the atmosphere of mystery that surrounds this setting. A rather innovative touch, however, was the litter also strewn throughout the space. Detritus, including empty milk bottles, VK bottles and pot noodle cups, was scattered, and was often interacted with by the performers and used as props. I feel this added a subtle touch of commentary to the production – not even a magical island in the middle of nowhere is free from human litter. This may be the Literature student in me rearing its ugly analytical head, but there may also be a link drawn here with the character of Prospero (played here by Marcus Paragpuri). Deposed from his position of Duke of Milan by his jealous brother Antonio (Jonathan Stone), Prospero finds himself on the island, and proceeds to colonise its non-human inhabitants, the spirit Ariel (Megan Farquhar) and the monster Caliban (Touwa Craig-Dunn). Therefore, the choice of litter scattered across the stage may represent the theme of colonisation that pervades this play – even a beautiful island is not safe from the invasion and damage caused by the human race. Although, I may just be looking too far into it. (Can I get a 2:1 out of this?). I was also very impressed by the composition of Aron Sood. The music created by Ariel and the supporting chorus of spirits (Annabel Pilcher, Saskia Reed, Lydia James, Laura Hickie, Isaac Withers, Ben Evans) was beautiful.

The stage (and Ferdinand, played by Iain Alexander)

The stage (and Ferdinand, played by Iain Alexander)

Focusing on the actors, all did extremely well at navigating what is undoubtedly rather tricky verse. Comedy came from the performances of Kalifa Taylor as a gender-bent Trincula, and Alex Wilcox as Stephano. Both exhibited a definite flair for comedy, with Wilcox especially capturing the audience’s attention with his larger than life interpretation of the drunkard Stephano. They played off each other well, and along with Craig-Dunn as Caliban, brought reams of much needed energy to a play that may begin to drag if you are not already familiar with the source material. Farquhar was also notable, lending an assured physicality to Ariel that exemplified the character’s distance from the human world. Paragpuri’s interpretation of Prospero, playing him as soft and slightly awkward in his interactions with his daughter Miranda (Beth Gilbert), was interesting. Having always seen Propsero played as stony and sometimes rather brash, it was rather lovely to see him being portrayed as the wronged fatherly figure. Yet Paragpuri was obviously aware of the character’s intricacies, showing shades of light and dark at crucial moments of the plot, evidence of talent! (although, being able to memorise the large expanse of Prospero’s speeches is talent enough in my opinion). Gilbert’s performance as Miranda is also worth mentioning, playing her with a refreshing childlike innocence and wonder, a perfect choice for a woman who has spent her life on an island with her father as her sole human interaction. I have mentioned the majority of the cast here in my praise, but there is truly not a bad word to say. As always with University of Birmingham student productions, I was astonished by the amount of gifted actors that lie within our community.

Interaction between Prospero (Paragpuri) and Miranda (Gilbert)

Interaction between Prospero (Paragpuri) and Miranda (Gilbert)

The imposing Ariel (Farquhar) and unruly Caliban (Craig-Dunn)

The imposing Ariel (Farquhar) and unruly Caliban (Craig-Dunn)

Overall, I was very impressed with this interpretation. One criticism (as I can’t effervesce too much) would be improvement of diction in the delivery of some lines, as a few were lost in the production’s fast pace, leading to some audience members to comment on their loss of some plot points. However, the difficulties in staging and conveying a Shakespeare play from the 1600s must be taken into account. Overall, I think all involved in this production should be commended, and I look forward to my next Article19 viewing.

All images sourced from Elafris Photography.