There was a moment, during my GCSEs, when suddenly Shakespeare became funny. I suddenly understood most of the jokes, as though my brain had flicked a switch, allowing me to appreciate his work. Ever since then I’ve been a sucker for Shakespeare, whether a traditional all male cast at The Globe or more contemporary takes on his famous tales, so I was absolutely delighted to be invited to see Thick As Thieves production of The Tempest at The Hope Theatre, Islington.
The Hope Theatre, situated above the Hope & Anchor Pub on Upper Street, Islington, is a compact venue, perfect for intimate and immersive productions such as this. With all four walls of the theatre painted and decorated to represent the island our characters are shipwrecked on, and even the floor painted as the sandy beaches, it’s hard not to lose yourself in the plot of The Tempest. You are more than simply an audience to this cast, you are part of their adventure.
With just four actors who work as cast, crew and front of house throughout the show, Thick As Thieves’ production is a true masterclass in focus, determination and frankly a feat of memory as the cast, Ariel Harrison, Marcus Houden, Nicky Diss and Thomas Judd all jump between characters and roles in the backstage team. Their theatricality throughout the show, even when mere inches from the faces of the audience, was remarkable and the stylised commitment to their various characters ensured no confusion as to who was present in each scene. Nicky Diss (co-founder of Thick As Thieves) was marvellous throughout, but her star turn was as the bumbling yet inventive drunk, Stephano. Her performance drew hearty chuckles from the crowd, whose responses were a little on the reserved side to avoid creating more heat in the already sweltering theatre!
Marcus Houden commanded the stage as a booming Prospero, delivering a classic performance of an iconic Shakespeare character. He was balanced by the dance like movements and lyrical tones of Ariel Harrison (also Stage Manager) as Ariel, who revelled in being the catalyst for so many events. Ariel was particularly effective at using the height and levels of The Hope Theatre, scaling the walls and perching from on high to taunt the characters on the beach below.
Thomas Judd (co-found of Thick As Thieves) as Caliban, Ferdinand and Alonso, used his physicality to identify each character, and often found himself sprawled across the stage, occasionally being mounted by other characters! Each member of the cast presented their characters with conviction, and every minute detail of their performance reflected each character precisely. Of course, the climax of The Tempest requires some inventive staging with a cast of only four, but you’ll have to go and see the show to see how they’ve managed it!
Atmosphere was key throughout Thick As Thieves production, which was clear the moment the lights went down and the raging storm in the Mediterranean Sea wailed throughout the room. We were sprayed with water, characters caught our eye when delivering their most terrible jokes and some characters even perched in the audience to disguise themselves.
Never be put off by Shakespeare, in any good production of his work you will understand exactly what is going on regardless of whether you know the show or not. Thick As Thieves is no exception, as the delivery of each line keeps the plot moving and the jokes coming. For only £14, and running at 90 minutes with no interval, with an interval scheduled on particularly hot nights, this is the perfect introduction to The Tempest, in one of the most charming venues London has to offer.