Time Out Singapore: ‘The Tempest’ Review

11 May 2015: Shakespeare in the Park returns for its seventh edition. Gwen Pew shares her thoughts on the production

★★★☆☆

Photo: Watson Lau

Photo: Watson Lau

The final rays of the sun fade into black. Moths, flies, bats and other creatures of the night emerge from the trees and flutter around spotlights. The odd pair of headlights blinks in the distance, then disappears.

At the front of the Fort Canning Park lawn, a huge open book towers over the audience on picnic mats, reminding us of the famous stage used in the 1999 performance of Verdi’s A Masked Ball at the Bregenz Festival in Austria. The book’s pages are covered in symbols and scribbles like a Da Vinci notebook, and enticingly lit. Combine all these elements and it seems like the perfect setting for the Singapore Repertory Theatre’s seventh edition of Shakespeare in the Park, The Tempest.

The story takes place on a magical island ‘full of noises, strange sounds and sweet melodies’. There, the wizardly Prospero (Simon Robson) – the rightful duke of Milan who was cast to sea by his usurping brother, Antonio (Matt Grey) and the conspiring Alonso, king of Naples (Ian Shaw) – has been living with his daughter, Miranda (Julie Wee), for the past 12 years. When Antonio and Alonso’s ship passes by the island one fateful day, Prospero sets his spirit servant, Ariel (Ann Lek), to stir up a storm that will safely bring everyone on board to shore. His plan: confront them and their past wrongdoings.

Did the production soar to the heights that we had hoped for? Sort of, but not quite. It’s enjoyable enough, but the sense of wonder wanes, and we never feel like we truly entered a ‘brave new world’. The set, as pretty as it is, does not serve much of a purpose, and quickly loses its appeal. The actors, likewise, deliver their lines as directed, but most of them don’t do justice to the beauty of the verses.

Robson’s Prospero, for instance, doesn’t come across as someone we should either pity or fear, while the chemistry between Wee’s Miranda and Timothy Wan’s Ferdinand – as fickle as their love-at-first-sight relationship may be – fizzles. The exceptions are Theo Ogundipe, who conveys with zest both the depravity and the tragedy of the deformed monster Caliban, and Daniel Jenkins and Shane Mardjuki, who make a great pair of drunken jesters as Stephano and Trinculo, respectively.

A couple of scenes are visually interesting – such as Ariel dancing between the massive blue cloth of a stormy ocean, or her taking the form of a gigantic bright red harpy to reprimand the usurpers – but they are, sadly, few and far between.

Overall, The Tempest is not much of a spectacle. It doesn’t stand out as a particularly bad performance, but it’s certainly not one of the company’s best, either. And yet, as one of the handful of annual events to encourage people to go to the park and enjoy an evening of literature under the stars, it serves its purpose.

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Time Out Singapore: ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ Preview

Gwen Pew chats with the young director of The Taming of the Shrew – the first ever production by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre to come to Asia – featuring an all-female cast.

27-year-old Joe Murphy, who is directing the touring production of The Globe's 'The Taming of the Shrew'. Photo courtesy of The Globe Theatre.

27-year-old Joe Murphy, who is directing the touring production of The Globe’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. Photo courtesy of The Globe Theatre.

1 Oct 2013: 

What prompted the Globe to finally bring a show to Asia?

The Globe team has wanted to bring a touring show to Asia for a long time, but it was only possible to organise it this year. I am very happy to be the director of the production that is touring to Singapore! It is such a thrilling opportunity for us to be in your incredible city performing such a fascinating play.

It’s never easy doing Shakespeare – why did you decide to do this one with an all-women cast?

For me, Shrew has this incredibly controversial history with women’s rights. Then it struck me as an opportunity to let a group of women give their slant on it, and take over a stage that is so often dominated by men. It’s very obvious that these eight intelligent, empowered women on stage are not condoning it. I think that what we learnt by doing it with an all-women cast was that there was an opportunity just to play the play as the play, because the most powerful argument against its misogyny is just to show its misogyny.

At the age of 27, you’re pretty young to be directing a show by the Globe. How did you first get involved in theatre?

It’s weird how we find different ways into theatre. When I was 13, I had started doing amateur dramatics as an actor, and there was this Irish student called Eva. She was ten years older than me, but she thought acting was cool. I’m not sure Eva ever knew how much I loved her!

How close of an experience is the touring show compared to going to the ‘real’ Globe Theatre?

We’ve been touring across Europe, so our set is a travelling theatre that can fit into any space and bring a little bit of magic from the Globe wherever it goes.

Are there plans for the Globe to tour to do more in Asia now?

We really hope so!

Time Out Singapore: ‘Othello’ Preview

Shakespeare in the Park is back, this time with one of the Bard’s first and finest tragedies. Gwen Pew talks to British director Bruce Guthrie.

Othello. Photo courtesy of Singapore Repertory Theatre.

Othello. Photo courtesy of Singapore Repertory Theatre.

25 Mar 2013: As one of the Bard’s most popular and oft-performed plays, Othello has captivated generations of actors and audiences alike. However, British director Bruce Guthrie – who’s back in town to direct the Singapore Repertory Theatre’s (SRT) upcoming production for its annual Shakespeare in the Parkperformance – is confident that he will still be able to keep things fresh. ‘I have never seen a version of this play that is set as modern as we are setting it. Or in the scale we are producing it. This is blockbuster-scale Shakespeare,’ he says. ‘I am a big believer in value for money and I know SRT shares that opinion. All of our ideas have come from how best to serve the play and how to convey that to a modern audience.’

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the tragedy, it essentially follows the downfall of well-respected war general Othello – the Moor of Venice, as he is referred to in the play’s subtitle – as his jealous ensign Iago plots to destroy him and everything he holds dear in life.

‘There are a few laughs along the way, but it is essentially a thrill ride of a play that explores masculine jealousy and the consequences of judgement being impaired by it,’ says Guthrie. ‘I had a very strong instinct about the tone of this production of Othello and how it could work for an audience at Fort Canning Park. Our production will be modern and focus on the absence of war and its effects on a soldier who is in the mind set for battle.’

Other than a modern make-over in terms of how it looks, however, audience here should expect a pretty direct interpretation. ‘We have made some cuts to the original text as it is one of Shakespeare’s longest plays, but it is still Shakespeare’s story and we will stay true to his language and script,’ Guthrie promises.

Also notable, of course, is the question of Othello’s race. Though typically portrayed as a black character, modern interpretations have seen the role cast in any number of races – and given the demographics of Singapore, many had anticipated (and indeed, prefer) race-blind casting. But in this case, Guthrie has decided to fly in UK actor Daniel Francis for the role, commenting: ‘I wanted to cast a black actor so they would stand out not only in our cast, but in Singapore itself. I think that as long as Othello is a different race that stands out from the rest of the cast, then you are okay.’

He’s clear, however, that the most important thing for him is to ‘cast great actors’ and people who suit the roles; other lead roles will be filled by the locally-based Brit Dan Jenkins as Iago and UK-based Singaporean actress Wendy Kweh as Desdemona.