Jack Studio Theatre
Reviewed – 15th February 2018
“the music kept the action pacey, and the audience on their toes”
Controlled Chaos Theatre’s all-female Tempest was a charming, well-shaped piece of storytelling, in which all the cast clearly believed. Arriving at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, the reception by staff was warm and friendly. It was wonderful to see a diverse mix of ages in the audience, which I hope the company’s interpretation continues to attract. A strong and supportive cast each had moments of sparkling stage presence, and director Dylan Lincoln clearly cares about the importance of Shakespeare’s carefully created characters. It is well-worth a watch.
Immediately from the opening scene, in which all the soon-to-be shipwrecked characters sing a brawling sailor song, the audience was immersed in the world of the play. Pretty and often clean visual direction made the piece very watchable: a highlight was the beginning, when the sailors played the unison motion of a storm-tossed boat. I couldn’t help feeling that the eerie wedding scene needed a bit more jollity, but, overall, striking signposts kept all in the auditorium engaged.
Occasionally, there were line blunders; and where some actors channelled nuance into their performances, others seemed to be reciting, more than playing with conviction. Compelling performances by Carmella Brown’s magnetic Ariel; Kate Sketchley’s powerfully tragic and masterfully oratorical Caliban; and nimbly played comic duos, Trinculo & Stephano and Sebastian & Antonio, anchored the piece. Jo Bartlett’s Prospero balanced tyranny and sympathy convincingly. Michelle Pittoni as Miranda and Hannah Jessop as Ferdinand were an irresistible pair of lovers, which delighted the audience. The especially detailed pair interactions between all cast members are where this production really came into its own.
The subtle, well-executed costume and set design communicated the island setting to the audience: fishing nets woven with shells hung on the walls; the playing space was punctuated by small logs; and the back of the stage had painted green accents to suggest foliage. The lighting design was simple, but effectively communicated tonal shifts, and aided the creation of Prospero’s dreamlike microcosm. Sound was used more-or-less throughout, with some scenes even being underscored. This is a very pleasing choice, for a script which is so musical. Live music offerings, arranged by Michael Halliday, were beautiful and often entrancingly eerie, Ariel’s flute and lilting folk songs being the deftest touch. Some of the sound design was a little derivative: here, the magical ambiguity of the world could have been trusted a bit more, and decisions could have been bolder. However, the music kept the action pacey, and the audience on their toes.
Although the cast was all-female, all the masculine pronouns in the text were not altered. Trinculo and Stephano played to male, ‘laddy’ stereotypes. The company aims ‘to try to redress the balance of British theatre, by encouraging more people from diverse backgrounds to engage with the theatre world, both on stage and off, including giving women a chance to take centre stage in the male dominated classics’. This is certainly an urgent and important ethos, but altering the pronouns of the text would have perhaps carried the choice to cast all women to the next level, thus deepening the interpretation. That said, this is a considerate and joyous staging of an entrancing and unwieldy play.
Reviewed by Eloise Poulton
Photography by Kevin Kamara
Jack Studio Theatre until 3rd March