Review: The Tempest, The Print Room at the Coronet

The mistakes of an older generation impacting the young. A group arrival to a mysterious isle. Flitters of much needed redemptive romance. There could not be a more relevant time for director Simon Usher to unleash the roaring winds of The Tempest. In the gorgeous Print Room at the Coronet, we are greeted by a vast black floor, crumbling walls, and a back wall adorned with rough waves. It is a shame that the drama of this evocative setting cannot be matched on stage.

A boat carrying the King of Naples and his subjects runs aground on a mysterious island by a ferocious storm. This island houses the usurped Duke of Milan, Prospero, who has the chance to enact revenge on his enemies with a grievous reunion. He resides with the savage Caliban and his servant Ariel, alongside his daughter, Miranda. Shakespeare’s tricky text varies wildly from beat to beat, romance to fury, and the tone of this production very much follows suit.

Simon Usher’s production starts and stutters with mixed results. There is tremendous energy in an effective storm scene. Utilising trap doors, ropes hung high in the theatre and water flayed from a central bucket, our minds conjure immediately the chaos of a crew in panic. However, a curiously static quality emerges from here on in, punctuated by moments of intrigue. The cast generally speak with a degree of clarity, but beyond their own lines move in straight lines, enacting vague expressions of outward gazes throughout group scenes littered by fixed positions. What we truly miss from Usher is real driving, breathing life in a text with the potential to speak to so much.

Kevin McMonagle’s Prospero brings the weathered qualities of a powerful man who has existed in isolation, but lacks the drive to convince us of either his powers nor his desire for revenge. There is a tenderness in the relationship of Hugh John’s Ferdinand and Charlotte Brimble’s Miranda, but John brings a lightness of touch and variation that compliments, separating himself from the other actors, many of whom give broadly one note performances. This monotone delivery grows ever frustrating in a show that runs close to three hours.

There is however a shining magical light among the serious black. Some welcome commitment arrives from the much to be admired community chorus, throwing themselves into transitions and gauze revealed vignettes in genuinely interesting ways. There is the potential there for a truly unique look to the work. Ben Ormerod’s lighting carries locations with a real sense of beauty. Paul Bull’s sound, full of lighting cracks and distance voices, underscores the action nicely. These elements create the impression that the shadow of a great production is very much present.

This production seems to be a mix of effective parts when isolated, but never quite combines to something truly coherent and special. Among the looks, the set, the faint glimmers of magic, it is hard to leave without the feeling something was missing. As Prospero was abandoned by his own isle, the impression that the engrossing, living drama behind this play has been left adrift sticks in the mind.

The Tempest is playing The Print Room at the Coronet until December 17. 

Photo: Marc Brenner