“The Tempest” – Guildford Shakespeare Company

Jeremy Malies in Surrey

It’s a magical conclusion to Shakespeare’s career as a writer of plays on his own, and a production is surely always running somewhere in the UK. Right now there is a profusion; my colleague Simon Thomas has just reported from the Theatre Royal, Bath and Sean Holmes launches a version at Shakespeare’s Globe while I type.

 

Daniel Krikler as Caliban. Photo credit: Steve Porter.

 

As the mercury hit 40 degrees in a record for the UK, my mind became a little feverish and I could believe that I had indeed been transported to Bermuda or the Mediterranean in this site-specific promenade amid ornamental gardens and an expansive lake.

Director Caroline Devlin’s unusual and eminently logical approach (only possible because Stoke Park covers 120 acres) is to divide the audience into three groups after the shipwreck. Colour-coded, we marched around eagerly with personable guides and saw the action (obviously) in a different order to other groups.

Playing a benign Gonzalo in Edwardian morning dress, company joint-founder Matt Pinches interacted affably with my group as we watched the plot to murder Alonso (Jim Creighton). I wish there had been a mechanism to stress that the events were happening simultaneously (I once saw use of shadow puppets at the back of the stage in a production at Edinburgh) but I guess there was no practical means for this outdoors.

I was charmed by the set-piece of Miranda (Dewi Mutiara Sarginson) observing Ferdinand (Benjamin Aluwihare) chopping logs. These accomplished young actors excelled in communicating that their characters value every second they can spend with each other. Similarly, the tension between decorum and wanting to be more tactile was finely calibrated. The scene stayed in my mind’s eye throughout, perhaps because Devlin then artfully led us through parts of the park that did indeed feature hewn or storm-created timber right up to Prospero’s cell.

 

Johanne Murdock as Prospero. Photo credit: Steve Porter.

 

As Prospero (played as a woman with pronouns changed but no excessive fuss over gender or any changes that might compromise verse form) Johanne Murdock impressed. Her “Our revels now are ended” had exactly the quality I expected. With the sun setting, Murdock seemed to deliberately void herself of power, and the speech cascaded over me like a valium rush. Elsewhere she conveyed an ethereal quality and the air of a true academic who can tell us with conviction that after being usurped there was always solace in study. (“… my library / Was dukedom large enough …”)

Nominally the setting is early twentieth century with 1912 (the year of the Titanic) being mentioned in the programme. But refreshingly, while we were invited to consider enslaved peoples – as we should – there was no clunky post-colonial viewpoint. Devlin is too wise to be prescriptive; she knows that this protean play can be whatever the individual spectator conjures it to be.

I have never seen an outdoor Shakespeare production in such a large location meaning that we were untroubled by anything extraneous such as traffic or other sets of people. Normally there would have been a risk that as Caliban, Daniel Krikler would have found unwanted irony with the line: “Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises.” But here, any noise was introduced deliberately by sound designer Matt Eaton.

Annabelle Terry (Trinculo) using an off-the-scale stereotypical Italian accent could have usefully found more light and shade though I’ll concede that, amid stiff competition, the role is perhaps Shakespeare’s most unfunny jester.

Set design by Neil Irish lay in artful reconfiguring of the park’s Astolat Pavilion which, logically, he transformed into something resembling a chandler’s yard and with a balcony that was used to good effect.

Prospero is not relying on magic and book learning alone it would seem but possesses cunning and is eminently practical. This is a working mini harbour. I’m always annoyed if Ferdinand and Miranda being discovered at chess is cut. Here they were using a gargantuan board and Aluwihare appeared to be the winner in a hard-fought endgame with Mutiara Sarginson playfully claiming that he has cheated. It was just one of numerous witty touches.

This was memorable. Devlin extended the masque content such that it infused the whole evening while creating joyous feelings of voyage, return and resolution.