Pete Postlethwaite returns to the Royal Exchange's famous round stage as Prospero in Shakespeare's The Tempest. This fine actor first appeared here five years ago in Harold Pinter's The Homecoming. There is something about The Bard's work that fits this remarkable actor like a glove and he is like a homecoming king, cloak and all.
Opening with the famous calm before the storm, the cast resemble characters in a Michael Mann film complete with shades, suits, and ear pieces; all very Miami Vice. These contemporary touches including the opening music, Born Free work wonderfully as they draw parallels within the complicated narrative so that the audience can see echoes of Iraq, 9/11 and how leaders use their power to control others.
The survivors of the storm find themselves on an island, controlled by the mysterious Prospero. As the story unfolds the men realise why they are there and each and every one of them is manipulated.
Ashley Martin-Davis' simple set design is remarkable as it works in complete synchronisation with Peter Rice's evocative sound. Sand fills the stage in act two and Peter Mumford's excellent lighting changes the weather before your very eyes.
Voices from friends of the Royal Exchange echo all around, as the spirits of the island. They include Brenda Blethyn, Tom Courtenay and Robert Lindsay.
But it is the talented cast that surrounds main attraction Postlethwaite who will leave you impressed. Oliver Kieran-Jones and Samantha Robinson make an attractive and believable coupling as Ferdinand and Prospero's daughter, Miranda. Slapstick comedy is provided by the terrific trio of Simon Trinder (Caliban), Toby Sedgwick (Trinculo), and Trevor Cooper (Stephano).
Jonathan Keeble always brings wit in abundance to his performances and he does it again as a sarcastic Sebastian.
The entire cast is flawless, working like honed athletes for three hours. But it is Steven Robertson as the ethereal Ariel, Prospero’s spirit, who fills the stage with wonderment. He plays it like Gollum from Lord Of The Rings yet retains an inner beauty even when manipulating. This actor is quite stunning to watch.
Hersov has produced a wonderful Summer production which proves why he has such a loyal following at Manchester’s most unique space.
- Glenn Meads