The Guilford Shakespeare Company have pulled off quite a coup in staging The Tempest by the University of Surrey Lake. Surrounded by tea-lit trees, moody skies and of course the lake, it seems the perfect setting for Shakespeare’s tale of sorcery and storms.

Prospero (Bill Ward), the rightful Duke of Milan has been usurped from his throne by his treacherous brother Antonio (played as Antonia by Sarah Gobran) and Alonso (Stephen Darcy). Placed in a boat with his daughter Miranda (Leonie Heath) they eventually make landfall on an island inhabited by Ariel (Caolan Byrne) and Caliban (Rikki Chamberlain). As the play begins, Prospero, with the help of his sorcery is about to exact revenge on his treacherous enemies.

After a rather peculiar piece of interpretative dance, which completely fails to depict Caliban’s attempted rape of Miranda, the audience are desperately wondering what tricks director Hannah Chissick has up her sleeve for Shakespeare’s most famous storm. The answer is sadly, none. Instead the scene is reduced to an amplified, offstage conversation between Master and Boatswain. Convention aside, a trick has been missed here, few directors have the luxury of a lake at their disposal and so it is baffling as to why this director doesn’t use it.

Thankfully, after this false start, things proceed with surprising energy. Bill Ward gives a diamond tipped performance as the mercurial wizard Prospero bounding around the stage with an aggressive, imposing swagger. Indeed, his second half performance in particular is quite brilliant. He is well supported by Caolan Byrne, as Ariel, whose initial vitality ebbs away to sheer despondency as his enforced slavery takes its toll and one is forced to realise the contemporaniety of his position, a native enduring foreign control in his own land. A tip of the cap to Stephen Darcy too, who doubled up neatly as both Alonso and Stephano.

Designer Susannah Henry’s brisk set is a tad underused. The three giant picture frames, give a charming filmic quality to a couple of small scenes but in this case less isn’t more. The music too was slightly off key, with some of the incidentals reminiscent of War of the Worlds and others bizarrely remindful of Last of the Summer Wine.

The strength of this production is undoubtedly the performances, particularly in the second half and for that alone it’s worth a trip to Surrey.

- Ed Clark

Reviewed at the University of Surrey Lake