Greenwich Theatre 27 – 30 September, Touring until 27 October. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Bilimankhwe’s production of The Tempest begins in bold and beautiful style, with Robert Magasa and Joshua Bhima dancing to Ben Mankhamba’s atmospheric music. The music and physical movement was the highlight of the production for me, as this pared down version of Shakespeare’s text lost its impact.
Isolated on his island for years with only his daughter Miranda, spirit Ariel and the monstrous Caliban for company, Prospero dreams of revenge on his enemies. When he finds out that they are sailing close to the island, Prospero conjures up a fierce storm to trap them and, with Ariel’s help, sets his plot in motion. The production keeps the themes of patriarchy, with Prospero engineering his daughter’s marriage, and colonialism, with Prospero enslaving the island’s original inhabitants and acting as their god/king, but the revenge is lost. Prospero’s long speech about his brother’s backstabbing ways is kept in, but we never meet him or his devious courtiers. This makes Prospero’s anger too abstract and a little irrelevant. The only castaways we see are Ferdinand, and then Trinculo and Stephano (slightly too long spent on those “comedy” characters for my taste here) – with Ferdinand and Miranda’s romance and Caliban’s drunken antics with Trinculo and Stephano giving this production the feel, at times, of a rather vindictive episode of Love Island.
The use of Chichewa by Caliban and Ariel adds a magical quality to the characters, as does the splitting of Ariel into two actors. Magasa and Bhima watch with catlike grace as their mischievous actions cause chaos. Cassandra Hercules and Reece Weathers are a whirlwind of hormones as Miranda and Ferdinand – her giggles and gleeful jumps are a joy to watch. Christopher Brand is a strong Prospero, although his journey to redemption is somewhat stifled by the lack of protagonists. In this production, the impression is that finding a husband for his daughter was his main quest.
Bilimankhwe’s The Tempest is more of a gentle summer breeze in its dramatic impact, but is still an enjoyable and energetic production, with wonderful music and choreography.