Portentous Pantomime

The Tempest, Droll and Folly Theatre, 88 London Road, Brighton, Sat 26 April, 2pm

Sun and salt bleached rubbish washed up on the shingle, windy weather, prenuptial parties, the streets paved with fun and games, what transpires in Brighton, stays in Brighton, a place to experiment with roles: bride, groom, panto dame, crazy funster, comedian, and in amongst all this comes The Tempest, a work expressly written for a seaside town, a permanent pier of antics into a dreary, grey sea. Isn't that so?

But, on the other hand, The Tempest brings the baggage of being, in Shakespearean mythology, his last play, his farewell to the stage; the Globe would burn down, the Jacobean age would end with a whimper, and here we all are, still doing this stuff. It has to be portentous doesn't it? Prospero has to mean much more than just a silly old man acting out his fantasies of revenge? Shakespeare knew a thing or two, didn't he? Surely?

The Tempest in Brighton. A town all about having your cake and eating it. The triumph of hope over experience, go out and drink as much as you like because tomorrow you'll feel absolutely fine.

In dramatic terms, it's fun to act types, to put all your eggs in one basket, to do pantomime. The romantic leads, the dame, the bad guys, some funny, some scary, the back and forth with the audience. These are tropes which persist. They are loved.

And it can be interesting to see plays performed in styles not native to them: Dickens as soap opera (BBC's Dickensian) or Jane Austen as horror (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). Though in these cases there is the hint of desperation that all other possible approaches have been mined out, there's no gold left in these holes in the ground.

Shakespeare though, is the pudding that keeps on giving, a magic pudding, a cut-and-come-again pudding, and Shakespeare, as the eponymous Magic Pudding of the Australian children's book, is an overarching metaphor.

If Australia is the magic pudding: take as much as you can, there's always more; Shakespeare is the great cultural pie: put in any filling you like, it'll always taste delicious.

Yet, as soap opera diminishes Dickens, pantomime shows Shakespeare as ridiculous.

Nothing makes Shakespeare's ambiguity more clear, than the lack of it.

To submerge the story beneath character types, to make Prospero a pantomime dame with a message delivered with a big stick, to make the lovers simple minded, to disguise the murder plots beneath comic turns, to make Ariel a sound effect, occasioning much gazing by the cast into the middle distance, as though practicing the Zoolander stare, by having Caliban channel baddies from Mad Max, all makes this Tempest much less than the sum of its parts.

You could say I'm being ungenerous, the neighbour who wants the music at the party turned down, the killjoy.

Why does it matter how Shakespeare is performed? I've seen the Schaubühne Theatre in Berlin do A Midsummer Night's Dream in a way that the original play was barely recognisable. Did that matter?

It matters as an example of the sausage machine: put in what you will, what you get out isn't serious. It's all about the next laugh. They didn't laugh? Quickly, move on to the next joke. If we stop having fun, everyone will leave and then where will we be?

What's the point of theatre if it isn't about something more than a desperate dance to keep the attention of those wanting an escape from the very things theatre is meant to be concerned with?

The themes that this production began with were left abandoned on the shore. This could have been an interesting take on a familiar play, but was finally a disappointing mashup of styles, a confused confection of flavours, which ultimately tasted of not a lot.

Paul Corcoran