Theatre Review : The Tempest

The Tempest
Stratford on Avon
Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

By Richard Lutz

There is a telling moment, superbly done, in this production of The Tempest when Prospero begins that famous speech: ‘ Our revels now are ended…’

Actor Jonathan Slinger gives it space and time and you know that his character is about to transform as he ponders Shakespeare’s words.

The magician, locked on his island, is to change. He will stop his merciless plan for vengeance against his hard hearted usurpers and forgive them.

There are many big theories about this play. Some are canny. Some crackpot: it is Shakespeare’s swansong; it’s a study of justice; it’s a mapping of power and politics; or, this is a Jacobean play about nascent English colonialism.

Here, with Prospero’s speech about an insubstantial pageant that will dissolve into nothing to be ‘…rounded with a sleep…’, you simply have a man who is ready to overcome poisonous hatred and learn to forget.

In a phrase, Prospero has decided to lighten up.

It is done beautifully. Hats off to the director David Farr and Slinger.

This Prospero is a beat up urban wreck in a mud stained city suit. His sprite, Ariel, is his balding twin, identical in dirty clothes. These are the two sides of mankind: the angry human twisted by venom and the divine angel. They’re two parts of the cleft apple, two sides of human nature.

Slinger wrestles with his own disturbed mind and wins. It is almost a physical effort until he finds a soft spot in his heart.

His innocent daughter Miranda is played with wide eyed wonder by waif-like Emily Taafe. And Amere Hlehel is an earthy, broad shouldered Caliban graced with a silver tongue.

The set adds to this production with its stark strength. It is bleak, so stark that at times the play seems to be staged in black and white- as if from a nightmare Beckett play. Farr uses all the tricks in the book to induce a sense of magic on the island, sometimes going a gimmick too far. You have sprites, gods and angels popping out of holes, descending from trapezes, disappearing off the edge of the stage. A gigantic brutal box serves as both a sinking ship and Prospero’s cave- though dialogue in this big cube is muffled and gets in the way of hearing the script.

This production is part of a trilogy about sea voyages and discovery called The Shipwreck Trilogy. It’s staged along with Twelfth Night and Comedy of Errors and cast with the same troupe of RSC actors. All three plays share the stage until the autumn. They also share the prospect of a bad ocean trip and some tricky moments when land is reached.

+Until Oct 7th Tix: 0844 800 1110