Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London Review
The island itself is an icy wasteland, subject to blizzards and snowstorms. In other words, this is very different from the beachy if desolate representations we normally see. In so inhospitable a place, it is obvious that the shipwrecked are truly destitute and Prospero's exile especially harsh. Antonio's quip that the island has everything 'save means to live' is humourlessly accurate.
The only habitation, Prospero's cell, is a ramshackle wooden shack with a rusty barrel for a hearth and heavily befurred bunk beds. It grows more lopsided until by the final scene it is half submerged in the ground.
The spirits of the island look like Inuit natives. The masque performed by the three goddesses for the newly betrothed Miranda and Ferdinand is portrayed like an indigenous, primaeval marriage rite with incomprehensible, harmonious chanting. The song's tempo increases and, in a breathtaking vision, Prospero's enemies all enter the scene. This is a wonderfully baffling sequence until it is revealed that Ariel has interfered to remind his master of the plan in hand.
Ariel is, in fact, the most astounding element of this stylised production. Fresh from Shockheaded Peter, Julian Bleach is a fabulously menacing Ariel, with his tall, angular body dressed in Adams Family garb, and a corpse-pale face. Slinking around the stage in spine-chilling fashion, even Prospero is frightened of his ghastly-looking servant. At one point, he emerges from a body of seal, bloodied and with skeletal bird wings, like some sort of demonic phoenix, to deliver madness upon Prospero's enemies. When finally released from servitude, he spontaneously combusts. It is an amazing coup to portray the 'brave spirit' in so sinister a way and he even makes Ferdinand's exclamation 'Hell is empty and all the devils are here' a perfectly reasonable conjecture!
However, Rupert Goold has also proved himself adept at getting fine performances with more traditional casting. Mariah Gale is a Miranda to define the part with the sincere, direct gaucherie of a girl brought up in utter isolation. Finbar Lynch was also outstanding as Alonso the King of Naples, with a charismatic stage presence and ability to convey a man brooding for the loss of a son yet used to his power and prestige over his subjects.
The only disappointing element of this production is that which will draw many people to it: Patrick Stewart. As Prospero, he is passable but a bit mediocre. Although good at delivering some lines with wit, his change from vindictive bitterness to humanity and forgiveness was not particularly moving or convincing.
Nevertheless, on the strength of this Tempest, it is clear that Rupert Goold is a director to watch. He has here managed to create a fresh version of a well-known play which, for all its innovation, does not contradict but actually explicates the text. In this way, his originality never feels gimmicky. Full of promise, Goold has shown he has a bold eye for cool yet relevant stylisation.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.