The Tempest review at Cockpit Theatre, London – ‘raw and unpredictable’

Eugenia Low and the cast of The tempest at Cockpit Theatre, London. Photo: Camilla Greenwell
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Charting the perilous shoreline between spontaneous and painfully unprepared, the Salon: Collective take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest using the cue-script method common to the Elizabethan stage.

Presented without group rehearsal and with each performer having studied only their own lines, the production claims a level of authenticity that even the Globe might balk at.

Director Lizzie Conrad Hughes – who also plays an especially tricksy Prospero – gives her cast free reign, visibly relishing their unscripted asides and occasional flashes of panic. The overall impression, though, is incoherent. With each actor providing their own tone and rhythm, this feels more like observing a silent disco than watching a play.

Lawrence Carmichael’s snuffling, bestial Caliban resembles Gollum crossed with Mr. Hyde, while an insolent, attention-starved Miranda, played by Laurie Stevens, alternately sulks and skips with excitement. Matthew Williams’ drunken butler Stephano becomes less a comic figure than a source of boozy, misanthropic menace.

There is a fine musical score from Emma Hunt, with ethereal panpipes underpinned by handclaps and vaguely sinister drumbeats. The costumes by Sam Lovatt and Katie Stuart feature a satisfying mix of period realism and floaty, fairytale fripperies.

Raw and unpredictable, the production injects something chaotic and not entirely unwelcome into the familiar play. There is a pleasure in witnessing performers on the edge, but not in watching their failures of confidence, or in hearing their lines rattled out without intention. This show sees its share of both, and only the company’s plucky playfulness keeps it afloat.

Risky theatrical experiment that suffers from a pervasive sense of slapdash un-readiness