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Review Round-up: Did Tempest Rouse the Critics?

Trevor Nunn’s starry production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest opened to critics at the Theatre Royal Haymarket last night (6 September 2011, previews from 27 August).

Thought by most to be Shakespeare’s last play, the action is set on a remote island patrolled by the ageing Prospero, played by Ralph Fiennes (Oedipus, God of Carnage, Julius Caesar), who controls the spirits of the island with his magic powers.

The cast also boasts Nicholas Lyndhurst (best known for his role as Rodney in Only Fools and Horses) as Trinculo, Clive Wood as Stephano and Elisabeth Hopper (who recently appeared in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead) as Miranda. The Tempest continues until 29 October.

Maxwell Cooter

“This really is an island full of noises, sound and sweet airs: Trevor Nunn's production is full of it … Nunn is pulling out all the stops ... There's rope work aplenty, back projections, a whole box of tricks. It's not a production that needs such gimmickry. At the heart of it is an excellent Prospero from Ralph Fiennes … Fiennes presents Propero as neither a domineering tyrant nor as a manipulator, but as a world-weary middle-aged man … Fiennes is a superb verse speaker and he brings some tenderness to the role ... we see Tom Byam Shaw's nicely-judged portrayal, develop a sense of humanity ... He's well supported by Elisabeth Hopper's Miranda... This is a totally believable teenager and well complemented by Michael Benz's Ferdinand. Second billing is Nicholas Lyndhurst's Trinculo … but neither he, nor Clive Wood's Stephano, really get to grips with the comic potential of their characters ... Better are the shipwrecked courtiers with Chris Andrew Mellon's rather camp Sebastian and Julian Wadham's scheming Antonio a choice pair of villains ... This is a traditional Tempest with little exploration of the undertones of colonialism or psychological insights of some more recent productions. But it's worth seeing for Fiennes' very human Prospero and some rather fine verse speaking underneath the overblown musical trappings.”

Michael Billington

The Tempest … can be seen, among myriad other things, as anti-colonialist tract, theatrical metaphor and spiritual allegory. And Trevor Nunn, in this new production, leans very much towards the last … It occasionally runs the risk of sentimentality. The final passages of reconciliation are swathed in soothing, mock-baroque music. Giles Terera's Caliban, having been dispossessed of his island kingdom, rather tamely submits to Prospero's patronising beneficence at the conclusion ... But, although Nunn's production softens some of the play's harsher edges, it boasts in Ralph Fiennes a Prospero full of the right tortured nobility ... Three other performances stand out. Tom Byam Shaw's Ariel is an airborne spirit who belies his diaphanous otherness by positively shaking with fervour when he makes his plea for ‘liberty’. Andrew Jarvis also lends the old counsellor, Gonzalo, a sense of mature wisdom ... And Chris Andrew Mellon invests the crown-hungry Sebastian with a glittering malignancy … It's not a Tempest that offers any startling revelations or insights … but is ‘harmonious charmingly’.”

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

Trevor Nunn … is sometimes infected by his inability to make a dramatic point succinctly ... Ralph Fiennes’ Prospero patrols the stage … luxuriantly savouring every slowly delivered syllable as if relishing a particularly fine wine. As a result, The Tempest … lasts a punishing three hours ... Nunn’s other flaw as a director is to turn whatever work he happens to be directing into something resembling a lavish musical, and that is also the case here ... But the worst fault of all … is that Nunn sentimentalises the play. In Shakespeare’s text Prospero’s forgiveness is hard won, the sinners’ repentance highly qualified. Here, Nunn tries to close the play in a golden glow ... The ending ought to be much tougher. Fiennes certainly cuts an impressive and commanding figure on stage ... Tom Byam Shaw makes a memorably ethereal Ariel. There is a terrific double act from Nicholas Lyndhurst as a deliciously aggrieved Trinculo and Clive Wood as a spectacularly drunk and boorish Stephano. But when the clowns are the highlight of a Shakespearean play, you know the show is in trouble.”

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

Ralph Fiennes is the best thing in this rather sluggish production of Shakespeare's shortest play. Fiennes' lonely, controlling Prospero is not so very far removed from his Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter. As this master illusionist - once duke of Milan, now a desert island exile - he is brooding and saturnine, at times resembling a ragged holy man. He suggests the steely certainty of an autocrat. Yet his performance, marked by a lucid way with Shakespeare's verse, has a dignity and humanity that make the character more sympathetic than is usually the case. In other respects, Trevor Nunn's account of the play is coherent but tepid … Ultimately, the drama should ooze romance while suggesting its author's renunciation of all the romantic power of theatre. It doesn't pull this off, but it's worth seeing for Fiennes. His Prospero is a tortured and complex presence.”

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

"Boy, this Sir Trevor Nunn production of The Tempest is gluey at times. Gluey and creaky, if that is possible. But it slowly delivers a central performance of rare force by Ralph Fiennes, playing Prospero. But for him, it would be a turkey. Director Sir Trevor has a reputation for stretching scenes like old chewing gum. The Tempest needs a long runway at the best of times but this one takes forever to get airborne, despite some lovely diction by Mr Fiennes in the drawn-out early scene when Prospero tells daughter Miranda his life story … Miranda is played prettily and with ripe charm by Elizabeth Hopper. Michael Benz is similarly likeable as her boyfriend Ferdinand. There are bursts of faintly furry, floaty music. They grow on you, as does Tom Byam Shaw's terribly camp Ariel … Nicholas Lyndhurst of TV's Only Fools and Horses plays Trinculo but he brings little to the evening. He himself is probably not to blame. The direction seems to be fiendishly uninspired. But let us return to Mr Fiennes. Forget that with his high brow and blazing eyes he resembles the football commentator Alan Hansen. Drip by drip, slow plod by slow plod, he builds a Prospero who is world-wise, forgiving, a prophet of love in an undeserving world. His fine acting saves the day.”


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