Review: The Tempest (RCS 2016)

Trying to find the words to describe how utterly captivating The Tempest was at the Swan Theatre of the Royal Shakespeare Company, is difficult. Words do not seem to be enough to describe how funny and touching and impressive this production was. But of course, I would not accept anything less from Simon Beale as Prospero!

The story starts with a thunderclap and lightening flashing across the stage. The precedent is set, and it only gets better from there. Directed by Gregory Doran, this production was groundbreaking. And I don’t mean that lightly. The technological effects used were simply phenomenal. It was ambitious – Ariel was to be created as CGI, live on the stage while the actor is running around in a morph suit recording his movements. The first show of its kind, weaving technology and the language that has captivated audiences for over four centuries. It could have gone so badly. But it was done so well that the transition was seamless, with the technological aspects of Ariel bringing his spritely form to life in ways not possible before. The screen as the back expands the set beyond the minimalistic set up of the hull of a broken ship. The magic created by the use of language and technology leaves the senses tingling long after you have left the theatre.

This show proves that technology does have a place in modern theatre, even in reproductions of a play over 400 years ago written. But I think it should be used only as the situation calls for it, for the plays involving magic, like The Tempest, maybe A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The RSC were ambitious in their production and their successes have catapulted an already incredible performance into new dizzying heights. The attention to detail in Ariel’s flight, in the wooded background, in all of it was breathtaking.

The cast were exceptional. Simon Beale’s return as Prospero was every bit as mad-islander wizard as it should be, and more. His presence and the interaction with every single member of the cast were enthralling. The portrayal of Miranda and Ferdinand, (the two young lovers on the island, one the daughter of a mad island dweller who was once a duke, the other the shipwrecked son of a King) was amusing and they played the immediacy of their affections towards each other well, with wit and humour, awkward looks and all. Their interactions were lighthearted and funny – the fairy blessing scene was a cacophony of music and light and laughter.

The first introduction of Ariel (Mark Quarterly), introduces the accumulation of two years of technological genius. A cylinder falls, and Ariel in all his spritely, commanding glory, flies around the room. Lifelike yet ethereal at the same time, swooping and swirling around the stage. And it is around the impressive Simon Beale and Mark Quarterly that the play forms.

The play starts with a thunderclap, and the first scenes set the expectations high, with each scene building upon the last. As the play progresses it just keeps getting better. As no point did I think the momentum had slowed. This performance was truly a wonder to behold. I was lucky enough to snag front row tickets. My knees were inches from the stage, and I genuinely forgot that I was watching a theatre production. I was there, on the island, watching Prospero manipulate events, watching Ariel wandering and causing mischief. I was there. And if that isn’t a sign of a damned excellent performance, then what is?

It is difficult to transcribe my thoughts, feelings and reactions to this play adequately. I can only recommend most wholeheartedly that you go, whether in Stratford-Upon-Avon (till 21st January) or at The Barbican in London (30 June – 18th August) or in participating RSC live theatres on the 11th January. Please. Go!

I cried to dream again. (Caliban III:ii)

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