Brownsea Tempest 2

Review: Brownsea Theatre, The Tempest

4.5
Out of five

It being summer, open air theatre season is in full swing. James Landymore visited an off-the-beaten-track theatre to experience one of Shakespeare’s more underrated plays first hand. 

Outdoor theatre. What could go wrong? On an island in Dorset in the middle of a British summer, I went to see Brownsea Open Air Theatre (BOAT)’s production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest to find out for myself.

Located in the depths of Dorset, Brownsea Island sits in Poole Harbour, close to the seaside town of Bournemouth. For one week each summer it transforms into an artsy enclave hosting an amateur Shakespearean production as part of the RSC’s Open Stages season. Being my first time attending one of BOAT’s performances, I was surprised to discover the group is amateur in name only. A passionate, sensitive and visually impressive performance: this is Shakespeare as it should be.

The island location truly lends itself to this play seeing as it is set on one itself, ruled over by Prospero- the usurped Duke of Milan, accompanied by his daughter, Miranda. He possesses powerful magic that gives him control over two of the islands spirits: Ariel and Caliban. When his brother, the usurper, is sailing near the island, Prospero seizes the opportunity to raise a storm and seek revenge.

a slick, convincing and powerful production that rivals professional institutions

One of the bard’s most intriguing plays, The Tempest blurs the lines between comedy and tragedy. Structurally speaking, moving from disorder to order, it belongs to the comedic genre. However, the actors and technical team do a brilliant job of communicating the text’s nuances. Gareth Richards’ Prospero is not merely the unfairly usurped, kindly figure that it could be tempting to present. Richards plays a three-dimensional character that treats his slave Caliban with cruelty, obsesses over his daughter’s virginity and is painfully aware of his magic’s transiency. Like all good tragic heroes, he certainly has his flaws.

In a similar vein, intelligently combining the vulnerable and the grotesque to simultaneously repel and intrigue the audience, Jamie Morris brings the play’s second complex character to the forefront of the production. Through varying voice and body language, Caliban is the bloodthirsty savage and vengeful slave, as well as the innocent native and drunken fool. In displaying such eclectic and contrasting qualities, Morris’ performance is exciting, bravely shunning simplicity for unnerving and magnetic complexity. When forming an inebriated trio with two of the shipwrecked sailors, Caliban’s comic traits lace the piece with rich and subversive black humour.

this is Shakespeare as it should be

From frolicking woodland folk to menacing dark magic, BOAT’s interpretation of The Tempest finds the heart of the play in emphasising its extremes, swirling and swaying like the eponymous storm. Being outdoors adds to the play’s volatility (although a downpour would be apt, we experienced only a little drizzle). This is a slick, convincing and powerful production that rivals professional institutions in its interpretation of Shakespeare’s text. Supported by a versatile set and lighting that complements rather than overpowers, it is clear they have nailed the formula for accessible and intelligent performances. Most importantly, BOAT choose to show rather than tell: essential when bearing in mind the challenges Shakespeare’s language can pose to modern audiences.

So, what can go wrong with outdoor theatre? Apparently nothing; this was without doubt one of (if not the) best Shakespearean performances I have had the pleasure to see.

Whilst this year’s run has now ended, in 2016 the group will be performing The Two Gentlemen of Verona between the 27th July and 12th August. Tickets can be found on their website. After a sell-out season this year, be sure to move quickly. More information about the RSC’s 2015 Open Stages season can be found here.

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