The Glasgow University Shakespeare Society could not have found a better venue for their Autumn mainstage performance of The Tempest. The Cottier’s Theatre, with its neogothic interior, adds a fitting sense of mysticism, and the simple yet effective staging (complete with twinkling fairy lights hanging above) sets the tone for a story of shipwreck, magic and romance. It’s unfortunate, then, that this sense of magic is largely lost in translation from page to stage…
The play begins with some unconvincing interpretative dance and continues throughout with a strange sense of detachment. Though it eventually settles after a shaky first couple of scenes, it never quite achieves a stable pace. The enjoyable repartee between the likes of Miranda and Ferdinand, and Stephania and Trinculo, is continually bogged down by lacklustre monologues and soliloquies.
Though there is a range of acting strengths on display, the ones who shine the brightest are the few who lean deeply into the humour of the play and truly engage with the audience as the best performances of Shakespeare’s comedies do. Of particular note are the four mentioned above. As the drunken butler Stephania, Briony Conaghan steals each scene, flashing knowing glances at the audience and committing to her role entirely. Her confidence on stage is evident, and her inebriated interactions with Kirke’s jester Trinculo were evidently an audience favourite. Another highlight of the performance were the scenes between Miranda (Laura Milton) and Ferdinand (Jake Lawrence), who mine the ridiculousness of the love-at-first-sight plot for all it is worth, including a particularly memorable ukulele serenade on Lawrence’s part. Both actors imbue the stage with an energy and vitality sadly missing from many of the scenes from which they are absent.
Much praise should also be given to the orchestra, whose refrain helps smoothen the transition from scene to scene. The duet performed by Katarina Duludes and Eilidh Riddell in act four shows off their phenomenal voices and makes ample use of the great acoustics of the venue. While the same cannot be said for other elements of the play, the music never falters.
Though the Shakespeare Society’s production of The Tempest reveals the occasional nugget of brilliance, it is hindered by some subpar performances and a lack of audience engagement, ultimately falling flat.
Eve Connor (she/her)
Image credit: https://www.whatsonglasgow.co.uk/event/112855-the-tempest/