Tampering with The Tempest

Last night we went to see The Tempest, a new production and interpretation by Jericho House. The performance was held at St Giles Cripplegate in the heart of the City of London. The church is one of the few remaining medieval churches in this part of London. It is said that there has been a church on this spot for a thousand years. Oh and the word “Cripplegate” has nothing to do with cripples, It comes from the Anglo-Saxon “cruplegate” meaning a covered way or tunnel. But back to the play. Jericho House describe themselves as “a theatre company specialising in inventive relationships between theatre, music and performance space”. The music, which is an important part of this particular play, was well done, with a fine lute player and evocative and touching melodies. But the cavernous vaulted ceiling of the church made the acoustics difficult. And there were times when I missed hearing the subtlety and beauty of the Shakespearian verse. One interesting innovation which gave the play a contemporary twist was the switching of character gender. So Ariel, who is traditionally portrayed in male form become female. Given that the part is described as ‘an airy spirit’ this wasn’t that much of a leap. Perhaps the more controversial switches were to make Prospero’s brother Antonio into a sister and the drunken butler Stephano into a lady of the night Stephanie. Did these two gender changes work? Yes, because they were also played by the same actor and therefore you had the double resonances of treachery and betrayal.

Next week I am off to see The Kitchen by Arnold Wesker, a play premiered at the Royal Court in 1959 and has since been performed in over 30 countries. It is being revived at the National Theatre.