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A CurtainUp London Review
by Tim Newns
Ralph Fiennes is excellent as Prospero. He is intense and measured throughout and is a strong centre point around which the rest of the production rotates. Fiennes draws the audience into Prospero’s world and we are almost complicit in his wizardry, unable to resist the temptation to see more of the extreme trickery he instructs the spirit of the air, Ariel (Tom Byam Shaw), to perform on the ship wrecked inhabitants.
Giles Terera as the monstrous Caliban and Andrew Jarvis as the kind and philosophical Gonzalo are also exceedingly noteworthy with Jarvis instilling in the production warmth and optimism. The spiritual world is charming in its visual appeal but at times the regular falsetto singing of Ariel combined with regular flying of spirits in the rafters steers the production dangerously close to cliché.
There are mesmerizing moments and Prospero’s epilogue of dismantling magic is a stunning resolution. The scenes between Prospero and Miranda are particularly heart warming and Nicholas Lyndhurst as Trinculo, the King’s Jester and Clive Wood as the robust King’s Butler provide several moments of comedy in quite a dark storm.
In a production of such technical achievement it is only right to praise the work of the design team. Paul Pyant’s lighting design is superb and has a strong hand in creating such an otherworldly and mysterious environment. Rainbow effects and unnatural purples don’t stick out in an eclectic palette that lights a rather sparse yet effective canvas of brick walls and projected backdrops and Stephen Brimson Lewis’s set and decorative period costumes juxtapose well. Illusionist Paul Kieve has provided the cast with many striking moments, particularly the opening storm where spirits appear from everywhere and flickers of fire adorn the doomed King’s Ship.
The Tempest is successful in its optical allure and Fiennes has been well cast as a memorable Prospero, yet perhaps these two facts may dominate too much with the eventuality that other elements of the production get lost in translation. The romance between Ferdinand (Michael Benz) and Miranda (Elisabeth Hopper) fails to ignite much spark and the scenes with the King’s ‘party’ sometimes seem lacklustre and one may want to be quickly transported back to the world of sorcery and storms. It is a long production at 3 hours but despite its flaws it has some rather enchanting periods.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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