Theatre review: Shakespeare in the Park's The Tempest
A visual feast
"We are such stuff/ As dreams are made on, and our little life/ Is rounded with a sleep." An iconic line from The Tempest, Shakespeare's final play, was met with hushed awe at Fort Canning Park. It played to a full house on opening night, and with good reason — the play was enchanting from start to finish.
Acting as the play's pivot was Prospero, played by renowned British actor Simon Robson. Working with Shakespeare's original script is never easy, but Robson's thundering command of the stage gave life to his monologues.
The severity of his role as an exiled sorcerer was balanced out by his chemistry with Julie Wee's Miranda, the daughter of Prospero. Their interactions and banter drew laughter from the audience, particularly when her love-interest Ferdinand, played by Tim Wan, arrived. The innocence and immediate connection between their characters was more than convincing, as Miranda and Ferdinand's budding romance received the most screams from students. The consistency in Julie Wee's performance as the doe-eyed and naïve Miranda was pleasant but unsurprising, given her role as Portia in last year's The Merchant of Venice.
The supporting cast too held their weight, with Matt Grey playing Antonio, Prospero's brother and Duke of Milan. The group of four — Antonio, Alonso, Gonzalo and Alonso's brother Sebastian — got the audience cackling, particularly during the scene where Antonio and Sebastian attempt to kill their comrades. The staging here was intriguing, as the parallel figures of the two conspirators above their victims was visually striking. The humour in the failure of their plot was well executed too, with entertaining performances from the foursome and a delivery of dialogue that rarely missed the mark.
The most raucous response from viewers, however, arose with the meeting of drunkards Trinculo and Stephano with the resentful Caliban, a long-suffering slave of Prospero. The antics of the three were reminiscent of Shakespeare's bawdy comedy in plays such as Twelfth Night, and the trio's exaggerated and loud performances drew deserved laughs and whistles from the audience.
As far as sets and costuming go, the visuals of the play truly marked it as The Tempest: enchanting and mysterious. The island set is the tallest ever built in Fort Canning, and it was made full use of in the play's gorgeous opening sequence of the storm. The most standout costumes came from the interpretation of Ariel and the other island spirits — shiny, technicoloured and almost futuristic, Ariel drew the audience's attention the minute she stepped onstage.
Ann Lek's portrayal of Prospero's servant and island spirit Ariel was perhaps the dark horse of the night. With perky enthusiasm and believable reactions, her presence onstage was always felt, even when she didn't have lines. She was the only character who really had to sing well at defining moments of the play, and there wasn't a stumble or voice-crack to be heard.
There are certain things about Shakespeare in the Park that are unlikely to change: the heavy dialogue that takes some time to sink in, the volatility of the outdoor setting (which lends its charm to the staging) and several more. However, The Tempest has given the SRT's annual shows new life once again, and it is most definitely worth seeing.
Shakespeare in the Park — The Tempest runs till 24 May at Fort Canning Park. Ticket sales and other information can be found here