Review: The Tempest, St Paul’s Church

Iris Theatre’s production of The Tempest at St Paul’s Church doesn’t quite conjure enough of a spell over its audience in Covent Garden

“Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises”

I’ve dipped in and out of Iris Theatre’s open air Shakespeares since starting this whole blogging lark. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of Covent Garden, St Paul’s Church and its gardens are an unexpected spot of contemplative beauty. And at their best, the productions here utilise the idiosyncracies of this space perfectly – their 2010 Romeo and Juliet remains one of the best I’ve ever seen.

But operating in one of the busiest spots of one of the busiest world capitals also has its drawbacks. And competing against the noise of the flow of Covent Garden street theatre can make the theatre here a challenge. Throw in the practicalities of ushering a large crowd around a limited space, for the shows here are always promenade, and it is far too easy to lose the spell under which audiences need to remain.  

Which is an apt analogy in any case for The Tempest, Shakespeare’s late play which has never really done it for me, if I’m completely honest. Its estranged relationships, curious connections and roustaboutery have to be treated with real care and consideration in order to hit the emotional sweet spot and that never really happens here under Daniel Winder’s direction.

Jamie Newall’s interpretation of Prospero sees him worn down, wearied by his existence, which brings an interesting subtlety to some layers of his performance. But it also fatally underplays his crucial relationships, with Joanne Thomson’s gawkish Miranda, with Charlotte Christensen’s avian-inspired Ariel, there’s little sense of the depth of feeling that should surely exist there, particularly as those links get sundered. 

Mike Leopold’s design does work well in evoking the range of settings, and Anna Sances’ costume work is mostly excellent (Ariel is the stand-out). But over a long couple of hours plus change, the magical ingredients needed to make The Tempest casts its spell are rarely found here.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Nick Rutter
The Tempest is booking at St Paul’s Church until 28th July

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