Cambridge Shakespeare: Summer 2005

Michael Grosvenor Myer

Grosvernor Myer, Michael. "Cambridge Shakespeare: Summer 2005". Early Modern Literary Studies 11.2 (September, 2005) 14.1-5 <URL:>.

  1. Stephen Siddall’s annual production for the Arts Theatre Trust is always an occasion to be anticipated with pleasure. He has that knack of finding something new but not gimmicky to emphasise about the play, using an always carefully cast combination of locally-based professionally-trained actors, experienced amateurs, and the best available of student players. (His Claudio in the Measure for Measure a couple of years back was seen on tv only weeks later, just after going down, as the young Randolph Churchill to Albert Finney’s distinguished Winston). Having said all which, however, I must say that one of the very few things that knocked me back about this year’s The Tempest was that the age difference between Dennis Bartlett’s Alonso and Cal Saville’s Sebastian, praiseworthily mournful-majestic and villainously-insidious as they respectively were, was too great to let them convince as brothers: grandfather-grandson looked much nearer the mark, and probably caused confusion to those of the many schoolchildren present (or others) who didn’t know the play that well.  The relationships were indeed conscientiously specified in the programme, but that didn’t help too much with the low light-levels which this version favoured. Nevertheless, the school parties laughed a lot, as they should, at Sam Kitchener’s creatively comic north-country Trinculo and Robin Lewsey’s restrainedly bibulous Stephano.

  2. All in all, this was a production well up to the standard Mr Siddall has set over the years. The appearance-reality duality was beautifully embodied, with marvellously magical banquet and masque scenes, including an unexpected but most striking country-dance for the spirits which I really found myself regretting Prospero’s interrupting quite so soon (choreography by Laura Bernal). I wondered for a bit afterwards about the idea of having the entire company retire upstage, back to audience, while Prospero spoke the Epilogue, and change into their own going-home clothes before taking their curtain calls; but it seems, in retrospect, as good a way as any for these our actors who are but spirits, such stuff as dreams are made on, to vanish into air, into thin air, before our very eyes. Others whose memory remains with me next morning are Ben Deery’s forceful Caliban; Marta Zlatic’s dignified Ariel; the lovely-to-look-at Miranda and Ferdinand of Emerald O’Hanrahan and Joe Marsh; and of course, dominating all as he should, Bob Taylor’s tetchy, vengeful, but ultimately loving Prospero.

  3. There was another Tempest , in Leon Garfield’s attenuated Animated Shakespeare for TV version, at the Arts just a few nights later, by enthusiastic pupils of Birchwood High School -- one of four more-or-less local schools (the others were Bedford Modern, Netherhall Cambridge and Bassingbourn Village College) taking part in the BBC’s cooperation with the Shakespeare Schools Festival organisation in a One Night of Shakespeare presentation. These took place in 100 theatres nationwide, four schools in each picked by application and submission of ideas: “1 NIGHT OF SHAKESPEARE; 100 THEATRES; 400 SCHOOLS; 10,000 PERFORMERS”, as it announced on the application brochure. I wouldn’t dream of trying to review each production; but will simply place on record the obvious pleasure the young people were deriving from the inspiration of their teacher-directors in bringing conviction to a majestic but troubled Macbeth, a white female Othello and insidious female Iago (though I will mention in passing that one of my very few disappointments was that Desdemona recited, rather than sang, her Willow Song), a youthfully pugnacious but charming Petruchio and Kate. Altogether a delightful, inspiring, uplifting occasion, embodying real hope for the future.

  4. And yet another Tempest less than a fortnight after that as part of this year’s Cambridge Shakespeare Festival in Girton garden. Can I really have found myself thinking, subversively and uncharacteristically, that if I didn’t see another Tempest for a month or so I wouldn’t unduly repine? Surely not... Well, indeed not if all were to be as good as this CSF one -- inventive without degenerating into gimmickry, erotic without ever descending into vulgarity (Emily Chugg’s exquisitely uninhibited Miranda unable to keep her hands off Bailie James’s personable young Ferdinand; a charmingly sulky, yet gracefully narcissistic Ariel from Michelle Whitney). It was one of those controlled productions where a series of implausible sounding ideas all work. These included the mixing of periods in costume (Tudor Milanese and Neapolitans, modern cool but twelve-year-old-shabby summer suitings for Prospero and Miranda -- who, like a 60s visitor to SF, wore flowers in her hair); a Caliban made up after Karloff’s Monster, and sharing that actor’s faculty of being simultaneously scary and sensitive, beautifully characterised and spoken by Mike Eyres; the masque a DVD of The Wizard of Oz’s Yellowbrick Road, played back to marvelling sixteenth-century time-travellers on a set kept hidden in the trees; a short, slightly bumbling (till roused to dignity and passion) colonial-style Prospero, perfectly embodied by Andrew P. Stephen, whose staff was a hook-handled bamboo walking-stick; excellently doubled Gonzalo/Stephano by David Haworth; and nicely comic Trinculo from Bertold Wiesner. All these were blended into an integrated, coherent, articulate whole by Simon Bell’s controlling hand, climaxing in a wonderful moment where Prospero turned to Ariel to grant her longed-for liberty, only to find she had made herself invisible even to him, and could choose her own moment and direction to take her own way off: a truly magical payoff.

  5. English Touring Theatre, under their gifted director Stephen Unwin, came to the Arts with Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead , Tom Stoppard’s very 1960s set of deconstructive variations on Hamlet and on theatre in general. I reviewed a student production here a couple of issues back, remarking that it worked where Stoppard let it but sagged where he didn’t -- a view I will have to revise in the light of Unwin’s consistently fascinating, constantly engaging and altogether splendid version. This one just never sagged. James Wallace’s vehement and concerned Guildenstern, set off to perfection by Nicholas Rowe’s laid back and disengaged Rosencrantz, framed by James Faulkner’s perfect old thesp of a Player and his lively company doing their Gonzago, as well as all the members of the “real” court, crew and pirates (a wonderful scene of SFX and dry-ice here), kept my attention riveted to all the metaphysical hoo-ha from beginning to end.

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© 2005-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).