Monday, August 6, 2012

The Tempest Review

The Tempest
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Like Much Ado About Nothing this is the first time I have seen a professional production of The Tempest, after seeing three outdoor theatre productions. I was looking forward to seeing Jonathan Slinger playing the leading role, Prospero.

Upon this familiar stage that has been used for the last two productions in this Shipwreck Trilogy, the identity of the island is rather ambigious. The stage is rather bare with the occasional stone dotted around, resembling pieces of statue. The background, which could be clearly seen in The Comedy of Errors, makes the place look like an industrial site, especially when there was a see through cube that looked metalic, representing Prospero's cell at the back. This was a dark world, which made the magic feel beautiful and somber, a reminder of the Twelfth Night that is running alongside this. I have now seen five David Farr productions and it is becoming clear that he prefers to do a darker interpretation of the plays he directs.

Having now seen him in 13 productions, it is clear that Jonathan Slinger is a versatile actor. I can still imagine him as Richard III due to his dark tone of voice, and when it was announced that he would play Malvolio and Prospero I was unsure whether he would be able to do the roles justice, I was wrong. He plays the loving father to Miranda (Emily Taffe) wonderfully and showed moments of grief as he told her how they came to be living on an island. His fury came in waves and he displays Prospero's ability to wield magic well. At the beginning he casually told Miranda to go sleep, without using a gesture, whereupon she slumped to the ground. At the same time he was a humble Prospero and spoke the ending monologue poignantly.

I am beginning to think that Jonathan Slinger and David Farr are a great combination. He worked with Slinger last year in my favourite production of 2011, The Homecoming, and I think Slinger's approach to acting works well with David Farr's style. I am now looking forward to seeing the pair work together again for next year's Hamlet.

Two actors that have stood out during this trilogy are Felix Hayes and Bruce Mackinnon, who played Dromino of Ephesus and Syracuse (The Comedy of Errors), Fabian and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Twelfth Night), and Trinculo and Stephano (The Tempest). Both were very expressive and produced some hilarious moments, particularly the four legged monster scene, which was met with a round of applause. I would hope to see them in further productions. Amer Helehl was passable playing Caliban with an Arab accent, though not as funny or remarkable as the other two.

Another highlight of the production was the relationship between Prospero and Ariel, played by Sandy Grierson. Whilst Grierson's scottish accent allowed him to play a harsh Solinus in The Comedy of Errors, he was able to alter his accent and play a tender Ariel. His body moved lightly and fluidly to signify the sprites airy characteristics. His suit was exactly the same as Prospero's, as is the other spirits' suits, signifying Prospero's power over them all. This was further emphasised when he took his suit off at the end, as Prospero relinquished his power. However both actors showed an affectionate relationship, and before taking off his suit Ariel also helped Prospero put on his Dukedom suit.

Emily Taffe did well in playing Prospero's young but strong willed child, Miranda, and her relationship with Soloman Israel's gallant Ferdinand was lovely. Having Kirsty Bushell play Ferdinand is the third time this year that the RSC has used a female to play a male character. She was very good as an impertinant lord in a red dress, a contrast to the suits and uniforms that were worn by the court.

The tricks that are performed were very good, for example the Banquiting scene that reminds one of the tricks that theatres could pull off during Shakespeare's time. I read that the storm emulating from Prospero's cell was inaudible to most of the audience. However, when I saw the production the quality was not great but I could hear a lot of the words. Maybe the company is now using microphones in that cell.

I thought this was an excellent production. This has been one of Jonathan Slinger's best performances, and plaudits must be given to a certain members of the ensemble cast. David Farr's sombre style provided some beautiful and poignant moments, which makes this production worth a low Top Price.

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