The Tempest @ Arts Theatre, London

cast list
Robert Mountford
Caroline Kilpatrick
Keith Thorne
Jessica Manley
Tom Kanji
Chris Jack

directed by
Jatinder Verma
Six ropes dangle from the ceiling. The six-strong cast each clasp one firmly in their hands and begin to sway from side to side. Through this simple motion they conjure the idea of a ship being tossed on the waves of the storm. Its a basic but effect way of staging one of Shakespeares more difficult scenes. There are further flashes of creativity in Tara Arts production of The Tempest, though they dont come as often as one would like.

This is a stripped down and simplified staging. A number of scenes have been excised or trimmed and the play is performed by just six actors (which is three more than Mark Rylances recent Globe production required). With the exception of Caroline Kilpatrick, who plays Aerial, each actor takes on two roles and the whole thing is wrapped up in under two hours without an interval.

Its clear that steps have been taken to make this an accessible and audience-friendly production and, at times, this achieved. Unfortunately the production is often betrayed by limitations of budget and overly static staging.

Robert Mountford makes a charismatic Prospero. Bearded and robed, and secluded in his cave, he casts his malign spell over the other players. The contemporary parallels are clear, if a little too forced. Jatinder Verma gives the play a North African setting. The characters inhabit a world that has aspects of both the Mediterranean and the Muslim; in keeping with this the characters sport flowing robes and, in the case of Jessica Manleys Miranda, a red veil. But though Mountford has presence, the rest of the cast make less of an impact and some of the acting veers towards the shrill and stagy.

Though there are regular flickers of invention, the production has a flatness and is sometimes sluggish. The use of ropes as a visual devise works initially, becoming both a cage that holds the characters and a wilderness for them to explore, but the occasional episodes of physical theatre, where the actors hoist themselves up or hang from these ropes, feel half-hearted, like sub-par Kneehigh. It would have been nice to see this aspect of the production, its potential for physical creativity, pushed further.

The space does it no favours. The Arts Theatre, with its lumpy seats and general lack of atmosphere, magnifies the flaws and limitations of the production and keeps the audience at a distance. The production just doesnt sit particularly well in this venue and there is a constant sense that it would be far more successful, far easier to connect with, if it were playing in a more intimate setting, somewhere where its limitations would be less glaring and its subtleties more evident.

The Tempest will be at the Arts Theatre until 27 January and touring throughout 2008.

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