Notting Hill’s Print Room is very much a work in progress. The once derelict Victorian print warehouse, then playhouse, then Coronet Cinema, is being sympathetically renovated to provide the area with a decent sized-theatre instead of ad hoc studio space.
And, on Friday night, amid the scaffolding poles, thrown-together shabby chic, boho, decor and red-lit stairwells, it staged its first Shakespeare, The Tempest.
But what a dismal, soporific production. Simon Usher’s heavy handed direction has conjured up a dull, lifeless interpretation which has robbed it of all the romance, magic and humour.
Kevin McMonagle’s Prospero slept-walk through his performance, delivering lines in an unwavering and toneless voice that failed to give away any emotion, whether it was sadness, anger or concern.
Equally cold and unfeeling was Kristin Winters as the normally hot-headed sprite, Ariel. Her robotic, deadpan expression and mechanical movement were joyless to watch.
The young lovers, Ferdinand and Miranda (Hugh John and Charlotte Brimble), didn’t summon up a spark of excitement or energy for the job ahead of them.
What was Usher thinking? He has drained the play of its vibrancy, spirit and colour. Even the story’s comic plotline, with court jester Trinculo and the drunken royal butler Stephano, normally a knockabout moment, failed to raise a laugh.
And here Billy Seymour’s deformed and bloodied Caliban is portrayed as a weak pathetic, creature with a thin piteous voice rather than Shakespeare’s villainous island native under the yoke of Prospero.
The production opens with the storm scene, ably played by community performers and with such excellent sound effects from Paul Bull that it was impossible to hear the dialogue over the noise of the howling wind and cracking lightning.
But the scene was spoiled by the increasingly comical sight of cast members taking turns to dunk their heads in a bucket of water in lieu of the ocean’s stormy waves.
The play proceeds in a Stygian half-darkness with the barefoot cast working on a stage covered in a thick layer of black cinder and little else by way of a set.
Brimble gives the most animated performance as Prospero’s 15-year-old daughter, Miranda, but she fails to find the youthfulness and naivety in her character.
Less a roaring tempest and more a damp squib.
The Tempest runs at the Coronet Print Room until December 17.
The Print Room’s first Shakespearean production, The Tempest, is a slow, lifeless affair that fails to conjure up the magic of The Bard’s prose.