The Tempest, RSC at the Barbican Theatre
The new Adrian Noble production of The Tempest is about as far removed from an old-fashioned RSC production as you can imagine. In this visually stunning production, Noble has abandoned the old RSC virtues of high-quality verse speaking and enunciation and delivered a genuine spectacle that incorporates many other forms of drama.
It starts with a chillingly authentic shipwreck, but it's a scene where a good deal of the speech is inaudible. More authentic perhaps, but newcomers to the play may miss out on a chunk of exposition. It's a problem that occurs a few times in this production: when Ariel appears to the evil courtiers, he does it from on high with a highly amplified and echoing throat-mike. It packs a powerful punch, but the effect does tend to garble some of the words and sometimes it's hard to track what's going on.
The other real problem with this production is David Calder s Prospero. The whole point of the play is that Prospero makes everything happen; he is in control right from the start, when he conjures up the storm that destroys the ship, up to the end when he renounces his magic. Modern interpretations have portrayed Prospero as a tyrant, a master magician, a showman, a ringmaster, a manipulator par excellence; certainly a person who has complete dominance on the island. This Prospero is a grouch in a dressing gown, more bad-tempered than truly irate, and a man who seems almost amazed at his own powers.
He compares badly to Scott Handy s Ariel. Handy's is a beautifully judged performance combining physical gracefulness and an affecting air of latent sadness; the songs are particularly well done.
Also of note are Robert Glenister s husky-voiced Caliban, Adrian Schiller s extremely droll Trinculo and Barry Stanton s vainglorious Stephano. Their proclaimed intention to slay Prospero and to rule the island is presented as a sort of tribal chant and makes a powerful end to the first half of the play. However, Penny Layden s Miranda and Evroy Deer s Ferdinand both diappointment; there is no sense of the wonder they feel (each for different reasons) of finding each other.
Despite misgivings about some of the acting, this production is one of the most visually compelling and imaginative that you re likely to see. But it would probably be more appreciated by someone who already knows the play.