There's a lot of Shakespeare in Oxford this summer. Siege Theatre is contributing their interesting take on The Tempest at the atmospheric Oxford Castle Unlocked Courtyard.
It starts with a boat, but not exactly a 'rotten carcass' of a sea-going boat, but what looks like the hull of a Mirror dinghy, beached in the middle of the Courtyard. It's not even a real boat apparently, but actually part of our hero Prospero's mind, the conscious part. The subconscious bit surrounds him as the flagstones, and later on with candles, between him and the audience. Prospero imagines the story of the play. He as the ex-Duke of Milan is exiled on an island, accompanied at first by his daughter Miranda, a spirit called Ariel and the wilder Caliban, a hirsute native. Prospero is able to take some revenge on characters from his past as they sail by his island because he and Ariel conjure up a tempest, causing their shipwreck. These are King Alonso, his brother Sebastian, noble Gonzalo, and Prospero's brother Antonio (the new Duke of Milan) who are in one part of Prospero's island/mind; the King's son, Ferdinand in another part; and then the King's butler Stephano and a jester, Trinculo in yet another part. With the help of Ariel, Prospero is able to 'see' what the characters are doing as they blunder around, and exploring his reactions in this self-therapy. The interconnections are the meat of the action.
The six male actors do a great job in telling the story. Roger Dalrymple is very strong as the brooding Prospero, the play maker with his books of magic (a nice touch this as they flutter in the breeze). Caliban (Kieran Donnelly) makes a splendid entrance from the audience and a convincing portrayal of the noble savage, especially when he discovers Stephano's bottle of sack. The other roles are shared out between a quartet of talented actors: Matthew Bevington, a witty Ariel, Trinculo, and Gonzalo; Ian Jackson, a convincing Miranda (yes!), Sebastian, and especially as the Boatswain in the mental storm; Ben Schofield, a particularly funny Ferdinand, and Antonio; and Joseph Hartshorn, who as well as producing the mood music and sound gives a good account of Alonso and a brilliant Stephano. They all enter in tight white undergarments, sit at the cardinal points, and take their costumes out of sacks on their cues. This unusual and successful interpretation of the text is fully explained in the programme by the director Michael Speight. He meets the brief admirably.
Siege Theatre's The Tempest is really very good, and the setting under the Castle tower very atmospheric. You ought to see some Shakespeare this year and if you can only manage one, then this should be it.