The Tempest, at the Southwark Playhouse (review)

Last weekend my 11-year old and I went to watch The Tempest at the Southwark Playhouse. The Tempest is part of the Southwark Playhouse’s annual Shakespeare for Schools project, which provides 1,500 free tickets to schools across Southwark.

It is a stripped down version of the play, with only 5 actors handling all of the characters, however it is in proper Shakespeare speak, which is of course the hardest bit when you approach Shakespeare as a youngster.

I thought it was a lovely show. The percussion begins before the play, with Andrew Meredith leading the rest of the cast in a rhythmical jam, walking around the space with big smiles on their faces and interacting with the audience. Throughout, Meredith’s multi-instrumental playing creates the magical atmosphere of the island and the storm, and works nicely with Sarah Readman’s lighting design.

I enjoyed the performances too.  Prospero is played as a woman by Sarah Malin and I found her quiet strength to be powerful and beguiling.  I also thought the mother/daughter relationship with Miranda (Gemma Lawrence) worked well.  My favourite character was Ariel, played by Peter Caulfield. A ubiquitous presence, appearing in most scenes, sometimes hanging off things or even upside down, emanating sadness and servitude, in his straitjacket sleeves, and yearning for freedom.

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The cast cleverly doubled or even tripled up on characters. At times I don’t know how this was done without ruining the flow, but it was. I enjoyed the fact that the same actor (Stanton Plummer-Cambridge) played such opposite personalities as Caliban and the King Alonso.

It is not my daughter’s first experience of Shakespeare. She has seen a wonderful, gory version of Macbeth with the rest of her class when in year 6 (I know as I was there too as an accompanying parent – at the brilliantly named Catford upon Avon festival). She has also seen a Tempest before at the BRIT School which she really liked. We went through the plot together again this time before watching, however she did find it tricky to follow the words. I studied The Tempest at school and although that was a fair few years ago (cough), it still helped! My only advice to her and all pre-teens and teens like her is to carry on going to see Shakespeare, especially the shorter versions, and to stay away from the histories for now! In time, and with more good experiences like this, I am sure her ear will attune more and more to the language.

The Tempest at the Southwark Playhouse is a great way into this classic Shakespeare and deals with some big themes like power, justice, freedom and magic, yet still retaining a great accessibility for secondary school-aged children. It’s into its last days now, so be quick if you want a ticket.

We went to see The Tempest on press tickets. It is at the Southwark Playhouse until 28th January 2017. See their website for full details and to book tickets.

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