Tempest, one of Shakespeare’s latest plays, is a drama
with redemption at its heart and David Farr’s production, while
not rich in innovation, at least captures the emotional resonances of
its core it boasts an excellent central performance from Jonathan
Slinger as a tender-hearted Prospero. He is full of care towards his
daughter Miranda, choked up with emotion when recalling his wife and
outwardly tender towards Ariel.
the most striking aspect of the production is the way that Prospero
and Sandy Grierson’s Ariel have an identical appearance in both
looks and clothing. This provides a sense of Ariel and Prospero
learning from each other as they assume aspects of each others'
characters. It also means that the audience is never quite sure
which of the two is watching on as events unfold. We get the
impression that they’re omnipresent – it’s an intriguing
army of spirits doing Prospero/Ariel’s bidding all wear similar
clothing too, so we have the effect of livery-clad servants, almost
as if anticipating Prospero’s return to his ducal palace.
the end, the duke and his sprite reverse roles: Ariel dresses
Prospero in his formal suit as he prepares to assume his dukedom,
while, a few minutes later, Prospero unbuttons Ariel’s jacket as
the spirit finally achieves his long-sought freedom. It’s a
touching moment but this is a production with a heavy emphasis on
such bonding: Emily Taaffe’s Miranda and Solomon Israel’s
Ferdinand make for a touching pair of lovers. Among
the rest of the cast, Bruce Mackinnon’s Stephano and Felix
Hayes’s Trinculo stand out – their double-act is genuinely
Bausor’s plank-strewn set resembles more the deck of a ship than a
tropical island but the transparent box that serves as both
Prospero’s cell and the stricken ship is a neat idea.
Tempest is the third play to open of the RSC's Shipwreck
Trilogy, which also features The Comedy of Errors
and Twelfth Night (the latter also directed by
Farr). Slinger’s beautifully-spoken and touching Prospero will be
my abiding memory of the play but there’s plenty more to commend
this sensitive production.