Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Review The Tempest

The Tempest
by William Shakespeare

Fantasy Island

A harassed magician and ousted ruler Prospero (Simon Russell Beale), with an impatient Miranda (Jenny Rainsford) straining at the leash, a far more patient but troubled bondservant in the spirit Ariel (Mark Quartley) and a beastly Caliban (Joe Dixon) all uneasily share an island in The Tempest.

And now they're joined by a digital world created by Intel and The Imaginarium Studio and projected on to the large Barbican stage.

Directed by Gregory Doran, towering undulating images dwarf the actors. Otherwise the design by Stephen Brimson Lewis has on each side of the stage half of a ship's two tier skeletal hull, two splays of ribs with an expanse between.

The Tempest would seem like the ideal Shakespeare play for digital special effects. Yet we found several problems with them. They interrupted the rhythm of the play which made some of the real life performances unfairly, we think, seem over-emphatic. Sight gags which would have gone with the flow if there were no gizmos then also feel inserted rather than organic to the play.

It is the quiet moments that work best - especially between Beale's tetchy Prospero and Quartly's thoughtful and elegant Ariel as the latter works towards his freedom while measuring his master's emotions and keeping within his boundaries.

Otherwise Jenny Rainsford makes for a feisty Miranda who has outgrown her father's admonishings and the island. Simon Trinder's white-face, tartan-trousered clown and James Hayes's mutiny-on-the-bounty Stephano's butler make a  comely enough comic duo.

Joseph Mydell's Gonzalo is also distinctive as, having been Prospero and Miranda's saviour, he is also a court politician looking to retain the status quo. We weren't so sure at first about Joe Dixon's Caliban, wrapped in a cockroach-type carapace, but ultimately the severance of his relationship with Prospero has a searing quality.

The special effects?  We didn't see the cinema screenings but it struck us on screen they may have worked better for us. Even though there was a difference made between the scenes of humans and spirits on the island, the masque interludes and the final moments where Prospero abjures his magic, it felt overloaded on stage. It is an experiment worth doing, and doubtless there's a learning curve which will bear fruit, but the play's the thing and we give an amber/green light.

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