Prospero’s island kingdom is far from idyllic. The exiled duke and sorcerer of Shakespeare’s The Tempest has enslaved the natives – demon Caliban and spirit Aerial – and meddled in the emotions of his daughter. But if he, like Shakespeare, insists on Miranda as a tireless symbol of virtue then Simon Doyle’s absurdist new riff on the play suggests something more realistic: an alienated teenager.
Here, a moody Miranda (Fionnuala Gygax) bends silent over a piano while Prospero (Bryan Quinn) rambles painfully about his spell books. The sight suggests something surprisingly ordinary about director Maeve Stone’s arch production: the tension between an overworked dad and his resentful kid. But when Ian Toner’s nicely agitated Caliban, mimicking his master, announces that their ruler has fallen off a cliff, the island inhabitants find themselves directionless. Pom Boyd’s eccentric Ariel attempts to supply an answer with her magic, a vision that plays out like a screwy tai chi class, but no decisive action comes from it. Instead, we repeatedly hear Samuel Beckett’s refrain: “Nothing to be done”.
Such a reference suggests Doyle’s work as an exploration of meaninglessness: a young woman’s search for self-expression in the phosphorescent fug of an absurd tempest. Inspiration literally seeps through the cracks in the cave wall, with the purple lighting of Zia Bergin-Holly’s sly stage design signalling a psychotropic outlet for emotion. Before long, Miranda is putting together a band to make herself heard.
But if the play is hinting at the cool neutral surfaces of postdramatic theatre, Stone’s production doesn’t quite deliver. Performances, whether delivering bitchy dialogue or individual descriptions of futility, often slip back into a disappointingly conventional logic. Little by little, the staging loses its subversive edge.
Doyle has used punk music to deconstruct classics before. Oedipus Loves You put Sophocles’s royal family into therapy, but whereas that adaptation was predominantly told through music, there’s something disjointed here about how the narrative builds to a gig as its conclusion. Gygax’s awkward Miranda gets to cut lose, but the songs she’s given, which revolve around the elements, don’t say anything special. Instead, the teenager ends the piece as she started it, misunderstood.
The Shitstorm is on until 16 September 2017 at the Abbey Theatre. Click here for more details.