Aisling Bonner reviews NUIG Dramsoc's last production of the year 'The Tempest'.
The Tempest opened with what can only be described as an explosive 4D cinema-like experience with strobes, smoke and sounds that electrified the audience to attention. It was something unlike anything I’d experienced in a theatre before, completely immersive and intense – a real technical spectacle. How a production could reach its peak in the first thirty seconds, and retain this level throughout was a lesson director Róisín Eyres was about to teach the four audiences of this sell-out production.
 
A story comprising of love, betrayal, family, and a sprinkling of magic, 'The Tempest' is regarded as Shakespeare’s last play. When a boat becomes shipwrecked on an island, its passengers are met with the vengeance of the magician Prospero, the usurped Duke of Milan seeking revenge. Aided by the spirit Ariel, Prospero wreaks havoc amongst his shipwrecked usurpers and simultaneously drafts a love story for his daughter Miranda.
 
With a cast of eighteen students, almost unheard of for a Dramsoc show, the interior of NUIG’s Bank of Ireland Theatre was completely renovated for this production. Facing the door through which they entered, the audience were seated in a U-shape around the new stage area, allowing the actors full use of the upper gantry and foyer area of the theatre. The many dimensions created by this bold staging greatly enhanced the production, and the action sprung up in places unknown, toying with the audience. The gantry above was draped with fishing nets and shells, and showed clever shadow-projections depending on the scene. A large rock below worked well as the focal point of the set however, the unused kitchen set-up in the corner seemed a little unnecessary and its presence was confusing at times.
 
Visually delightful and incredibly creative, Cliondhna Hallissey and her costume department thoroughly outdid themselves with this show. With a wealth of fabrics, materials and colours, each costume stood out in its own way. The mermaid-like scales of Ariel, teamed with her cable-tie neckpiece and white and fishnet robes enhanced the mysteriousness of her character. Likewise, Prospero’s elaborate multi-coloured cloak and lighting crystal staff added to his magic.
 
Just as no costume disappointed, neither did its wearer. Extremely well-rehearsed, and with a noticeable understanding of their character, each cast member oozed energy, emotion and confidence. While all actors held their own on the stage, stand-out performances were aplenty.
 
Gráinne White in the male role of Prospero commanded attention with her inspired facial expressions and gestures. Her perfect diction and convincing understanding of the words were consistent throughout, allowing her to fully embody her character. The audience loved her.
 
Orla Tubridy playing the spirit Ariel also showed this consistency of character. Her unpredictable nature was enthralling as she went from manic cackling to silent focus, moving in slow-motion but with complete precision.
 
Meadhbh Lyons and Oisín McDonagh in the roles of the weary drunkards Trinculo and Stephano provided the very welcome comic relief in the play with ease. By adding modern twists to their delivery, they cleverly appealed to the predominately student audience, leaving them in convulsions. Their contrast to the lion-like monster Caliban, played by Charlotte Nate, gave an added dimension to these moments of comedy, as Nate provided a sinister element evoked through her captivating delivery and agility on stage.
 
Delia Keane (Miranda), Davin McGowan (Ferdinand), Mark Fitzgerald (Sebastian) and Tomás Clayton (Antonio) also delivered noteworthy performances. Overall, it was an unbreakable cast and a testament to Eyres’ direction.
 
In a production of this size, executed so smoothly, the most credit is deservedly due to director Róisín Eyres, aided by her stage manager, Niamh Ní Fhlatharta. The accumulation of lighting, sound, set, costumes and a tight-knit cast was seamless and I had to constantly remind myself that it was student-run. The brave choice to ignore gender specifics in casting this play was pulled off unquestionably, and gave many characters an interesting quirk.
 
With a number of sub-plots and complicated conspiracies, this storyline was difficult to follow, making the comedic moments even more welcome throughout. While some of the longer monologues provoked utter confusion, they were countered by some modern directional interpretations which brought the audience back on track. In the same way, Fergal Breen’s beautiful original score with its memorable recurring themes set the focus, and proved highly atmospheric. His music was just another welcome dimension to this well-rounded production.
 
Dramsoc’s production of 'The Tempest' was less a play than a theatrical experience, inviting the audience into its world. With its visual sublimity, stunning soundtrack and captivating acting, it truly was such stuff as dreams are made on.