Canary Wharf may not seem like the ideal setting for Shakespeare’s tale of spirits and shipwrecks, but Jubilee Park has its own kind of enchantment which makes you forget the surrounding skyscrapers. The stage, a series of stacked cylinders, is painted with greens and browns to blend in with the trees, and there is faint music to set the scene, so that the whole park seems to become Prospero’s island.
Unfortunately this production of The Tempest doesn’t live up to its magical setting. The play has been trimmed down to less than two hours, and much of the potential darkness has been chucked out for broad comedy, giving us cross-dressing, slapstick gags and a Caliban who acts like a dog. It also never seems sure what it wants to be, veering between the traditional and the modern for no apparent reason other than to get in every joke it can, meaning that one moment Ferdinand is stiff-backed and formal and the next he is appreciating Miranda with an enthusiastic “Phwoar!”. The result is a production which feels a bit too much like a school play or pantomime for my liking – although it is fairly entertaining, it is never convincing.
The production is more successful with its side characters, particularly the scenes featuring Sebastian, Antonio and Gonzalo, and there are some charming puppet sequences, used to show Prospero’s spell on the ship and to tell Miranda the story of their exile from Milan. Some of the best scenes are the ones with no dialogue; Ariel pulling the bodies of the crew members from the sea and awakening them has the spark of eerie magic that the rest of the production needs. Ariel and Prospero’s interactions, too, are well played by Catherine Lake and Simon Norbury respectively, but they are smothered by the unconvincing romantic scenes between the fussy Ferdinand and childish Miranda, and the drunken exploits of Caliban and his new-found friends.
The cut-down script means that the story feels rushed and disjointed, leaping from scene to scene without giving us enough time to invest in the characters, and there are some crude moments which sit uncomfortably with the family-friendly tone of the show. It has enough laughs and moments of magic to work as light evening entertainment, but the play and environment offer so much potential that the production has wasted, opting to play it safe and silly rather than put a new spin on this magical tale.
The Tempest is touring until 30 August. For more information and tickets, see the Miracle Theatre’s website.