Theatre Review


Home Reviewers








The Faction Theatre Company present

The Tempest


By William Shakespeare


Director: Mark Leipacher


Lighting: Matthew Graham


Composer: Thomas Whitelaw


Brockley Jack Studio Theatre


27 April – 15 May 2010





A review by James Buxton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

The Tempest is widely considered as Shakespeare's last play and is perhaps his most ambitious work. It is set on an island inhabited by the magician, Prospero (Gareth Fordred), the Duke of Milan and his daughter Miranda (Kate Sawyer) who have been shipwrecked there for the past twelve years. They share the island with only two other inhabitants, Caliban (Robert Fisher), the deformed son of a deceased witch and an imprisoned spirit known as Ariel (Hannah Douglas), who Prospero commands to carry out his magic.

 The play begins with the arrival of Prospero's brother, Antonio (Harry MacQueen), Alonso (Benjamin Wild), the King of Naples and Alonso's brother, Sebastian (Peter Collett) and son, Ferdinand (Antony Jardine), who have run aground due to a huge tempest Prospero has created. Prospero directs the events throughout the play pairing his daughter with Ferdinand while using his powers to scare Alonso and his train.  Later in the play Caliban comes across the drunken servants, Stephano (Alexander Guiney) and Trinculo (Mark Leipacher) and is inspired to serve them to help them topple Prospero.

Performed  for the first time by the King's Men in 1611 and under appreciated in Shakespeare's lifetime, The Tempest  has gone on to become one of his most admired, inspirational plays. Faction's production of The Tempest recognizes the epic scale of the play and instead of relying on a vast set and elaborate costumes, uses Shakespeare's mercurial language to create the fantastical island of illusions in the Brockley Jack:  in this instance, a black box theatre.

Set almost in the round, with the audience sat on three sides of the actors, the stage is bare throughout. The lack of a backdrop or permanent props on stage means that there is nothing to detract from the richness of the language and quality of performance on offer. In the programme, Faction states their intent: “Our focus is on storytelling and our physical and inventive approach produces energetic and entertaining work that engages our audiences with the muscularity of the language.” which is exactly what they achieve in this production.

Our imagination is evoked from the beginning, as soon as you enter, a red light bathes the stage and a calm, hypnotic music plays. Music is used at intervals to subtly lull the audience into a trance like atmosphere that the play exudes and adds to the overall hazy, hallucinatory quality of the performance.

Gareth Fordred as Prospero is astounding. Fordred delivers his lines with great clarity and understanding, allowing the audience to hear every word. While his small frame deceptively hides a commanding stage presence, it is Fordred's piercing blue eyes that profoundly reflect the unhinged intensity of the great sorcerer and the gentleness of a loving father. It is as if he is actually possessed by Prospero. In cream trousers, shirt and scarf, he carries a black umbrella, which he dramatically opens, defiant of superstition; he is the controller and director of all the character's destinies.

Ariel played by Kate Sawyer, gives a strong performance as an imprisoned spirit. Throughout the play she maintains a tense, erect posture, accentuated by her black corset, tights and heels. Her arms are steadily held, unnaturally apart from her body as if there is a ring around her stopping them from touching her sides. Her delivery is faultless and her presence in itself almost makes you hold your breath as she manages to sustain such a rigid position.

Caliban played by Robert Fisher is trussed up in ropes that enforce his position as a monstrous creature; he wrenches at the ropes that contort his body in raging frustration as he is unable to be free and stand tall. Fisher scurries half naked around the floor, limping in his bondage and carries the role off with convincing chagrin, beating the floor and his breast and exuding a sense of a tortured beast.

The director, Mark Liepacher's choice to set the play on a square set with the audience on three sides, allows for a more natural blocking to come into play than in a standard end on stage and creates an informal atmosphere, with the audience providing the limits of the island. The lack of any rostra for staging meant that the actors are actually below the audience which helped certain moments, such as when Caliban appears for the first time from beneath the seats.

The dynamic use of different levels creates a strong visual impact, suitable for each character.  Caliban's tormented shuffle on the floor emphasises his grovelling, beast -like status. The lovers, Ferdinand and Miranda fall to a supine position and kiss each other in playful courtship. Prospero's open umbrella held high increases his stature and adds an ominous sign of his presence. At the end of their scene, the actors pause, completely still, instead of walking off stage, which adds to the sense of Prospero controlling them like puppets.

Liepacher is not afraid to update The Tempest to a modern sense of humour and there is a welcome break from the complex Elizabethan language in a hilarious scene, when Prospero puts on entertainment for the lovers and the ensemble don party hats at crooked angles and dance Saturday Night Fever style to cheesy jazz music, with Stephano (Alexander Guiney) dressed like a pimp.

The costumes for the men are mostly smart casual with blazers and waistcoats and knee high boots with the exception of Trinculo (Mark Leipacher) an incredibly camp servant who incongruously wears pink tights, white vest and dog's head furry hat, perhaps a reference to his insult as a “puppyhead”, which adds a light touch to the piece. Miranda (Hannah Douglas) runs around bare legged in a white night shirt, reflecting her playful innocence.

Ropes are consistently used in a highly inventive fashion. In the initial scene, ropes are stretched from poles on the rostra where the crew haul the lines back and forth to create the impression of a ship in a storm. Later on a rope is simply hung across the stage like a washing line with garish dresses on it, creating a surreal effect, hiding the humans who are leashed like dogs behind them. The rope is a simple prop that is exploited to its full potential and it is refreshing to see a production rely on so little to convey so much.

Faction's production of The Tempest is highly recommended for its balance of quality, classical acting and its lightness of tone, making the play enjoyable for a modern audience whilst staying true to the atmosphere and text of the original. Faction shows a real engagement with language to create the world of The Tempest and succeed in allowing the island to be fully realized. Their lack of reliance on a set or a plethora of props but Shakespeare's language to convey the bewitching potential of the play shows a pioneering vision that bodes well for the future.


Tuesday 27 April - Saturday 15 May at 8pm
Sunday 2 & 9 May at 5pm 

Tickets £12, £9 conc.

To book tickets by phone please call Ticketweb on 0844 847 2454

Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
410 Brockley Road
London SE4 2DH
Admin No: 020 8291 1206

Box Office: 0844 847 2454






Copyright © EXTRA! EXTRA All rights reserved





Home Reviewers