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“O Brave New World”: A Review of the KSC’s ‘The Tempest’

Roar writer Rena Hoshino reviews the King’s Shakespeare Company’s comedic production of “The Tempest” at the Greenwood Theatre. 

The past 2 years have not been kind to the public entertainment industry. With the pandemic and the restrictions that arrived alongside it, it has been difficult for both stage actors and fans to enjoy the good old theatre. I hadn’t realised how much I valued it until it was gone; So, when I was given the opportunity to see a play, I had to take it. I booked a ticket for Wednesday, 6 April to see the King’s Shakespeare Company (KSC) perform “The Tempest”.

Greenwood Theatre is a little way off from Waterloo campus and stands next to some student accommodation. The auditorium doubles as a lecture hall, sporting a grand stage and seating reminiscent of a TED talk. I arrived relatively early and chose a seat at the peripherals of the room. Over the course of ten minutes, it began to fill with the chatter of people, friends, family, and fans of Shakespeare, all creating the electric atmosphere that one feels before any play begins. At 5 past 7, the lights were turned off and the audience quietened down in anticipation.

The opening scene felt distinctly modern: the crew were dressed in a variety of suits and the captain steered a plane rather than a ship. Announcements on the plane became less and less reassuring and the crew, inevitably, crashed onto the island that would host the rest of their antics.

Perhaps there is something to be said about the fact that almost all of the main roles were occupied by female-presenting actors while the male-presenting cast exclusively took on comedic roles. It subverted some of the ideological work of the original play, and of plays written during Shakespeare’s time when acting was considered a masculine pastime. It also made each role appear to be genderless. I felt that it worked well, bringing more attention to the character dynamics than anything else.

Just as I do with all artistic works, I had some qualms with this performance. Sometimes the pacing felt slow, with some scenes stretching a little longer than they should have, and there wasn’t much power in the drama of the play. With so many comedic moments, it was hard to realise or even acknowledge the stakes. “The Tempest” is, arguably, a play about betrayal, forgiveness, and confinement. It is a play that contains fruitful discourse, particularly between Caliban and Prospero. The KSC’s interpretation was more light-hearted.

Strangely, it worked; maybe because the sheer number of comedic scenes created the sense that this play never quite took itself seriously. Stephano (Henry Hargreaves), Trinculo (Bert McLellend), and Caliban (Amber Smyth) had remarkable chemistry, and a particularly notable scene emerged with the wedding of Miranda and Fernando in which a beautiful rendition of “Hey There Delilah” (with Miranda replacing Delilah) was hilariously unexpected and made the crowd laugh very amiably.

Two actors really shined for me: Prospero (Emily Hartland) and Ariel (Isobel Histed). Hartland embodied the role of a frustrated and grumpily affectionate father well, making it difficult not to sympathise with a character who I had always seen as the most tyrannical in the play. Histed, too, was the embodiment of the production’s playful spirit. She played a character who is desperate for freedom and seeks it through pleasing their master, but does also genuinely feel for and care about them. Their presence in the play enhanced its cohesiveness and, when combined with the lighting effects of some scenes, truly brought an air of magic.

KSC’s “The Tempest” was an easy, relaxed combination of modern humour and classic Shakespeare which, perhaps, had a stronger comedic side than its romantic or dramatic counterparts. Regardless, it left me with a feeling of joy that I had sorely missed. Having witnessed the genuine talent of these flourishing actors from my own generation, I am certainly excited to see what the KSC will do next.

‘The Tempest’ played at the Greenwood Theatre from 5 April until 7 April. A recording of the production will be released soon.

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