Shakespeare's magical masterpiece is a challenge for any company, professional or amateur, and I wondered what Banbury Cross Players would make of this - not least because it was to be done 'in the round' and later to be performed in the open air at Sulgrave Manor.
Overall I think that directors Bruce Walton and Linda Shaw have put together a fine, lively production of this play.
I was concerned that the actors would be lost in such a large space with no scenery. To some extent I felt this was a problem as I thought that some of the actors, having a lesser stage presence than others, got a bit 'lost' in the space given. That said, it was clear that a great effort had been made to use the area available and, on the whole this was successful. Lighting, props and sound, all well managed, more than made up for scenery. I was also impressed that use was made of the gallery to give a dramatic start to the opening shipwreck scene.
At the centre of the play is the usurped Duke of Milan, Prospero. Heward Simpson was well-cast in this part - quietly angered by his betrayal, a loving and protective father to Miranda, a magician of sorts and master of Caliban the monster who is his earth-bound servant and Ariel, Prospero's magical conspirator. A demanding role played with just the right mix of authority and falability. Miranda has lived 'alone' with her father on the island for 12 years but Katy Roberts' portrayal of her was a little too restrained for me - it's just an opinion but 'Oh brave new world....' needs to brim over with amazement.
Helen Watson as Ariel was something of a gem - acting, singing and moving with great skill and grace. Beautifully costumed, capturing the joy of mischief but always aware of and wanting to be rid of her servant status; a top class performance. Similarly Dave Candy was so good as Caliban. Dave was a totally authentic embodiment of the monstrous slave who, nevertheless, has feelings not only for himself but also others. This difficult balance came over just right in his portrayal. Dare I say it - both parts played to perfection.
Nathan Elliot impressed in the role of Ferdinand - 'noble, pure and honest' indeed. And Andrew Whiffin as his father Alonso, King of Naples, played his role with great precision and dignity.
Comic relief in this play is provided by Trinculo the jester and Stephano, a drunken butler. John McCormick as Stephano showed total committment to his role and did not let the 'drunkeness' required take over the need to deliver important lines with wit and clarity. Kate Groves made quite a pleasing jester, though, as a jester, I felt she should be a lot more outgoing and confident.
Of the rest of the shipwrecked group I enjoyed the rather rambling but often cogent speeches of Gonzalo, played by Helena Boughton.
I have no hesitation in recommending this show, in which Banbury Cross Players capture the true spirit of The Tempest. I wish them well for the rest of the run and for their open-air presentations of the play in the summer.