The Steampunk Tempest

Fri 5th – Mon 15th August 2016

reviews

Coreen Grant

at 09:52 on 12th Aug 2016

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Some Kind of Theatre produces a slick, well-performed version of The Tempest, which is skilfully acted but disappointingly unoriginal. Shakespeare’s late play is tastefully pared down to a punchy, hour-long production which picks out the best parts and performed them professionally, but the production fails to add a distinctive mark of its own. Claiming to be an innovative steampunk version of the play, director Emily Ingram’s alterations are as much a visually engaging ornamentation of the original as a novel twist.

The intimate venue affords the cast a clear, clean space in which their confident movement and crisp articulation is maximised. Despite the cramped stage, the actors succeed in bringing the full weight of the play to life through their vigorous execution. Ariel’s movements are aptly flickering and ethereal, rich with irrepressible energy, while Prospero maintains the dominant presence on stage with bold actions and loud expression. Occasional, well-chosen moments of humorous delivery liven the play, and the numerous gender changes lend the beautiful, ancient words a modern feeling.

The controversial character of Caliban is dealt with in an interesting and liberal manner: played by a young, delightful actress (Izzy Hourihane), much of the sympathy lies with her not-so-monstrous portrayal. Instead of the blame being turned on Caliban for ravishing Miranda, the native’s relationship with Prospero’s daughter is depicted as one of unrequited, tender adoration. The similarities between the two girls are emphasised in their white dresses and fair hair, giving a poignant image of two kinds of innocence. In turn, Prospero’s enslavement of Caliban and Ariel appears cruel and tyrannical, subtly bringing out the debated criticism of colonial force.

A simple backdrop of painted scenes depicts the familiar island setting, but the costumes of the cast contrast jarringly. True to its name, the actors are kitted out in items of sci-fi machinery, and dress concordant with the peak of the British Empire in an attempt to visually focus on themes of oppression and power. However, much of the show’s additions seem to be mere add-ons rather than insightful interpretations: eye-catching props such as goggles and a moon-boot contraption on Ariel serve to create an exciting aesthetic, but little more.

Had this show been a standard production of The Tempest, it would not have been disappointing in any way. However, the lack of impressionable steampunk elements mars an otherwise lively and enjoyable performance.

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Dominic Leonard

at 09:58 on 12th Aug 2016

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Perhaps my eye-roll at the title of this play is a little snobbish, in retrospect. Productions of Shakespeare at the Fringe have an infamous reputation – the free, experimental nature of the Festival often leads people to choosing bizarre routes to take Shakespeare down, often convoluted and unnecessary routes which take away from the brilliance of the original texts. But Some Kind of Theatre’s ‘The Steampunk Tempest’ is a welcome break from the forced adaptations of Shakespeare. This is an excellent performance of the text, which uses steampunk roots as an aesthetic gloss to highlight the strange, otherworldly, out-of-time nature of the play, rather than intruding to the point of unfaithfulness, or altering the story’s universe too wildly.

It is classic steampunk: gold, rust, brown leather, goggles, pocket-watches in waistcoats, and a mad scientist Prospero, played excellently by Christopher Paddon. Some of the performances are gender-bent, which makes for a change of relationship between some characters – Ariel (Calum Moore) is now a boy whose relationship with Prospero becomes something like Doc and Marty (or Oberon and Puck), and Caliban is played by a female, Izzy Hourihane, in rags. The latter is somewhat disappointing – she is not particularly monstrous, and given my excitement to see what a steampunk monster would look like, this was a small let-down.

The set is an excellent use of the small space, a backdrop of a huge open book with paintings that are turned over like pages, a nod to Caliban’s books and the fairy-tale monsters and spirits of the play. The ethereal music playing during Caliban’s ‘the isle is full of noises’ speech is also a very nice touch, something which I wish there had been more of.

As a whole, the articulate cast does excellent justice to Shakespeare’s text; not a single word is fumbled (not even by the brilliantly cheeky drunks Stephano (Charlie Angelo) and Trinculo (Daniel Orejon)), and are all closely attuned to Shakespeare’s rhythms. This is no doubt due to the attentive work of director Emily Ingram, who has done a fantastic job of crafting a small, wondrous gem.

It is rare to find a production of Shakespeare which does something odd with the play’s universe, but still knows the original text is the most important aspect. This show uses a new angle to enhance this, rather than distract from it. The Tempest contains some of the poetry that leads people to worship Shakespeare, and Some Kind of Theatre have done a fine job of respecting this, giving the verse and magic plenty of space to breathe in a strange new universe.

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