The Tempest ~ Stafford Castle, Stafford Shakespeare Festival

The Tempest runs until 8 July 2017 – book tickets here: The Tempest Tickets

Star rating: *****

Following the triumph of last year’s production of Othello at Stafford Castle, the team have pulled off yet another masterpiece of a spectacle with their latest Shakespeare Festival offering, The Tempest. Produced by Derrick Gask and directed by Clare Prenton, a more magical evening with such an engaging take on the Shakespeare classic I could not have imagined. It gives the RSC’s production a run for its money, that’s for sure!

A brief synopsis: Prospero, Duke of Milan is usurped by his calculating brother, Antonio, aided in his mission by Prospero’s political enemies. Prospero and his five year old daughter, Miranda are marooned on an island as a result where survival seems unlikely. However, with the aid of a spirit, Ariel and Ariel’s son, Caliban – he and Miranda have lived on the island for twelve years. When an opportunity for Prospero to seek revenge upon his brother and his cohorts, he summons magic to help him in his conquest. It’s a stormy tale with plenty of highs, lows and a good deal of comedy – all of which are highlighted to perfection in this incarnation.

The set is a marvel, with the castle in the background, it is a wonder to behold, the staging is in effect quite simple, but the use of lighting and special effects enhances the scenery and offers the perfect atmosphere for every nuance of the story. The nautical feel is evident but not over-bearing and leaves plenty to the imagination. What struck me with this production was the visual way in which the back-story was put across to the audience at the beginning, with added musical entertainment and dancing giving a light feel in contrast to the dramatic and turbulent tale which unfolds.

Stephen Beckett would never have been my automatic choice for the role of Prospero, and yet his portrayal was so thoughtful, considered, understated at times and powerful that I cannot imagine anyone else in the part – he surpassed the Prospero’s I have watched before. His chemistry with daughter, Miranda (Grace Carter) was extraordinarily believable, their father/daughter relationship played out beautifully and Carter was a genteel yet gutsy Miranda who could not have suited the role better. Gavin Swift’s Ariel was agile, able to blend like the proverbial chameleon and occasionally had a violin in tow, which he played brilliantly. Zephryn Taitte’s Caliban seemed almost benign to begin with, fairly non-descript, yet he came into his own when he met the drunken butler, Stephano, played with excellent comic timing by Jonathan Charles and Trinculo, the ‘jester’ who in this piece was a ventriloquist and played expertly by James Hornsby. The trio were a comedy force to be reckoned with and certainly a hit with the audience. James Lawrence put the sneer, simper and cunning into the ever-plotting Sebastian with gusto, Lawrence returns after his performance in Othello last year and he is an asset to Stafford Shakepeare Festival. Richard Gibson breathed new life into the bumbling Gonzalo, playing him with an air of smugness, I felt, which befitted the role and allowed the character to come to the fore more so than in other versions that I’ve seen. A special mention must also go to Katrina Kleve who gave a glorious performance as Francesca, a fine dancer, singer and all-round entertainer.

Miss The Tempest at your peril, Stafford Shakespeare have produced yet another superior version of a popular classic and the setting of Stafford Castle sets it off in stunning fashion.

 

 

MCM Expo – NEC, Birmingham

 

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Reviewed by Helen and Garry McWilliams

MCM Expo at the NEC, Birmingham was a fabulous joy to behold and scheduling it post-Halloween and Bonfire night makes for great timing as the highlight of the autumn calendar for Cosplayers, gamers and film/TV fans alike. If this con was anything to go by, we’d say that the number of Cosplayers has increased and long may it do so – we’re considering joining in next time, too.

The downside of this particular event was that we could only stay for Saturday, so we missed out on some promising talks on the Sunday. To give you a flavour of the line-up, there was an opportunity to join the cast and crew of upcoming movie “The Call Up”, a Q&A session with voice actor, Todd Haberkorn, and a panel for the 50th anniversary celebration of ‘Goldfinger’. All of that and much more, and that was just on Sunday!

On Saturday, our visit got off to a tremendous start with various members of UK Garrison meeting and greeting outside the hall. Mostly Stormtroopers at this particular point, they were all resplendent in their gear, spot on as usual. These guys are an asset to conventions and we feel it wouldn’t be MCM Expo without them. The layout of the event was well planned, plenty of room for manoeuvring a buggy (our youngest and newest member of the team joined us, this year!) and it was an ingenious idea to allow the Steampunk area to stand out upon entry. The Victorian Steampunk Society, who have been part of MCM London for 11 Comic Cons were immediately visible and packed a great programme into the two days.

So many famous faces to meet and obtain autographs from, too, they ranged from a few cast members from hit TV series ‘Allo Allo’ to stars from ‘Doctor Who’ and a variety of Movie stars, with some ‘Only Fools and Horses’ thrown in! An impressive line-up, to say the least, and the schedule of panels for the day were outstanding. We joined the ‘Red Dwarf’ session where Chris Barrie, Hattie Hayridge, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn and Chloe Annett answered some insightful questions from the audience who had gathered inside of ‘the marshmallow’ aka the theatre area which consisted of an inflatable marquee. We applauded the fact that Chris Barrie launched so easily into the voice of ‘Gordon Brittas’ and there were some respectful nods towards Craig Charles who has prematurely left ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here’ due to the death of his brother. It was an interesting panel and one we would be keen to see repeated in future.

The arrival of ‘Harry Potter’ star Tom Felton was the ‘piece de resistance’ and we think it’s safe to say, a moment that the Potter fans who, were clambering over one another to get a space in ‘the marshmallow’ will never forget. Tom is fronting a documentary for BBC3 about ‘what it is to be a fan’; it’s a good concept and a subject which could easily go on and on. An hour passed and he still hadn’t gotten through all of his questions, but it was a panel with a difference, with all questions being aimed at the audience instead of vice versa. We felt this added an extra dimension to the Con and it was a privilege to be part of it.

All dates and venues for next year’s MCM Expos are available on their website www.mcmcomiccon.com, and as always, this is a must-attend event for ‘Break A Leg Review’.

Please check back for an exclusive interview with author, Andrew Ross – who has written “Too Happy A Face” (which is an authorised biography of screen legend, Joan Sims) published by Fantom Films. Andrew was signing copies of his book at MCM Expo and it was a pleasure to meet him.

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Members of the cast of Red Dwarf                    Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy, Harry Potter)     

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