June 19 2013 Latest news:
Mark Campbell, Mark Campbell
Thursday, July 5, 2012
The Geoffrey Whitworth Theatre in Crayford pulled out all the stops with a visually stunning production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest last week.
After a noisy shipwreck, the curtains opened to an expansive set of caves, rocks and cliff walls, in front of a vivid orange sky. This was the island ruled by the magician Prospero (Gerald Bishop), alongside the winsome spirit Ariel (Paul Harris) and his hideously deformed slave Caliban (Alan Goodwin).
Director Ben Gaston had spent months working on this, and it showed. Enormous effort had been expended in creating a cinematic feel. Lighting was bold and dramatic while bombastic music from Hollywood blockbusters highlighted the action. Costumes, props, make-up and magic tricks all contributed to the experience.
The Geoffrey Whitworth Theatre had rarely looked so impressive.
But — and it’s a big but — where in all this was the meaning?
The Tempest traditionally runs for three hours. This ran for two. Not by making cuts (I was reliably informed there were none), but by speeding up the actors’ delivery.
In the opening scene, it was impossible to understand any of the shouted dialogue, and I was in the front row. As Prospero, Gerald Bishop declaimed his dialogue with such rapidity that Shakespeare’s beautiful prose was rendered unintelligible. And he was far from alone.
There was a general sense that although the performers had learnt their lines, a lot of them didn’t understand them. The blame for this must lie at the director’s door for concentrating on the surface frippery and not working to uncover the meaning of the words. Frustratingly, the plot remained opaque to the end.
Actors who did slow down and make the meaning of their lines clear could be counted on the fingers of one hand: Alan Goodwin, Lee Devlin, Ross Holland and Paul Harris. All acquitted themselves excellently, but they were very much in the minority.
Shakespeare is immensely hard to perform well. You can’t just throw money at it — the actors must understand what they are saying, and the director must have the confidence to let the performances breath.
I would much rather have sat through a three-hour play that I understood, than a two-hour one that I didn’t. Frustrating.