A fusion of Eastern and Western influence is brought to St Giles' Church Cripplegate in Jericho House’s touring version of The Tempest, to mark 400 years since the play was first performed.
With elements of dance, music and song, Jonathan Holmes' production has an emphasis on collaboration, and presents a colourful and disorientating spectacle when entering the Church. This concoction of ideas is also expressed in the design, which incorporates Italian suits, a fez, high Anglican clerical robes, hieroglyphics and a variety of religious iconography.
Unseen musicians dotted around the space provide a constant background of sound to the action, and large chunks of the text are sung. This, coupled with the acoustic inside St Giles, does lend a certain sense of magic and the ethereal.
However, both actors and audience have to work fairly hard to make the space work. There are moments, such as the arrival of Ariel’s ghoulish harpy, which suit the surroundings, but by and large more is lost than is gained.
It seems the actors feel the need to fill this hard echoing space with movement and emphasis, but the smaller, more intimate scenes are the clearest and the most effective.
(In the interests of full disclosure, your reviewer was five minutes late
for the start due to unforeseen issues with London transport and
missed the shipwreck scene.)
Rachel Lynes as Miranda lends a very powerful yet gentle sense of innocence and naivety to her scene with Ferdinand. Stephen Fewell and Natalie Armin, while confusingly cast as two separate pairs of shipwreck-survivors, bring a welcome sense of straightforward humanity, and humour, to the stage. And Alan Cox, as Prospero, is most effective when stripped of his staff, cloak and theatrics, and humbly impeaches the audience to set him free.
There is an issue with pacing, despite the sub-two hour running time. Even when not involved with the action of the text, players creep around the space at snail-pace, bringing the atmosphere down to that of a morgue, and often robbing this play of urgency and drama.