The Tempest at Ness Gardens, Wirral

Posted on 11 July 2017
By Miranda Humphreys Green
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We were promised a tempest, but the sun shone, the prosecco corks popped and the picnics were nibbled. It was all very civilised. MATE’s production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, performed in Wirral’s Ness Gardens, is as polished and accomplished as you could hope, especially from a cast of amateur performers.

It’s a yarn of banishment and revenge, with a thread of imprisonment running through, ultimately unravelled to a skein of forgiveness and new beginnings. Prospero’s dukedom is stolen from him by his scheming brother, and he and his small daughter Miranda are exiled to a desert island.

Once there, Prospero, who is in possession of some magic tricks, enslaves the only inhabitants he can find – a poor monster, Caliban, and a sprite, Ariel. Some years later, sensing his brother’s presence nearby, Prospero contrives a great storm to shipwreck his party. He, with Ariel’s help, toys with the survivors.

Caliban takes the opportunity to find a kinder master to serve but misjudges the newcomers, who are drunk on washed-up booze. Meanwhile Miranda spies her first hunk, Prince Ferdinand, and falls for him.

I particularly enjoyed the portrayal of Miranda (and not just because I have a personal interest in my namesake!) To be honest, Shakespeare doesn’t give a director much to work with here. She’s the only female character in the play and she doesn’t get to say much.

She’s been imprisoned on the island since the age of three, and it’s tempting to have her as some sort of paragon of innocence and ethereal insipidity. But Lauren Brown has her bouncing like an excitable puppy at all the tempting new man-flesh she encounters for the first time in her life.

She and Ferdinand embody hormone-ridden teenagers in the first flush of lust very nicely, and add another comic dimension to the play to the usual capering of Stephano and Trinculo, the sozzled servants of the shipwreck.

But it’s Connor Simkin’s Ariel who is the star of the show. He flits, he skims, he hovers over the action; his presence at once commanding and elusive. And he has a fine voice too.
David Kernick’s Caliban is also noteworthy. It’s a difficult play. Surely Caliban should have our sympathy, his kingdom island snatched from him by Prospero? This production doesn’t attempt to explore the vilification of Caliban or portray him as anything other than whining and railing but Kernick whimpers well.

Special mention must go to the wardrobe mistress, Jane Allen, who has styled Caliban as the bastard son of a Highland chieftain and Stig of the Dump, whilst Ariel leaps onto the set, a glorious swan-feathered faun. I blinked and thought I’d time-slipped into the audience of a production of Swan Lake.

However, Ness Gardens did not give us a natural amphitheatre so sightlines were compromised. In addition, the actors had to contend with the noise of passing trains, planes and automobiles – not to mention the breeze rustling the trees and the cawing of the crows – and some of the dialogue was lost to the wind. In particular, Prospero was a casualty of the outdoor surroundings. Which was a shame because when you could hear him, he sounded fine and fruity.

Ultimately, it’s not so much a brave new world as one which we are comfortably familiar with. But at a snip of the price of other local outdoor productions and for an evening al fresco, the last rays of the sun freckling your face and a glass of fizz fitted to your fingers, what more could you ask for?

The Tempest
Ness Gardens, Wirral
July 9, 2017
Author: William Shakespeare
Producer: MATE Production
PR Rating: **** Magical

The Tempest will be at Prescot Woodland Theatre, Saturday, July 15 at 2pm and 7pm. For Tickets:

Tickets are £9.50 for adults, £5.50 for children and a family ticket for two adults and two children is £26.