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The Tempest (Barbican)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“Oh brave new world that hath such people in it” says Miranda towards the end of the play as she discovers the possibilities of a world beyond her little island. It's normally a sign of optimism and discovery but in Declan Donnellan’s Russian production Anya Khalilulina spits out the line with such malice that we’re all too aware that this is a future that may not be too rosy.

What Donnellan has emphasised is the way that people struggle to deal with sudden and dramatic. It’s an interpretation that sits well with the all-Russian cast even if the resonances with modern Russia are a little too obvious.

One of the strangest aspects of Russia's transition from a totalitarian state to a rampant consumerist society is the large number of people hankering for the good times under Stalin. Donnellan’s production reminds us that many people fear change and that Prospero and Miranda’s departure from the island is not necessarily going to be a return to the good times. The final image of a disconsolate Ariel and Caliban contemplating their freedom is an indication that the transformation of fortune has repercussions for everyone.

In truth, Donnellan belabours the point a bit too much when the pageant of the goddesses is presented as a hymn of praise to the Russian harvesters – complete with old newsreel film – while Ariel accuses Alonso and Antonio in the guise of a Stalinist prosecutor.

The shabbily-dressed Igor Yasulovitch makes for a downbeat Prospero with little sign of his ducal majesty or, indeed, magical power. There’s something of the domestic bully about him and it is little wonder that Miranda and Alexander Feklistov’s unmonster-like Caliban strike a rapport, even communicating in Caliban’s own language. Plaudits too for Nick Ormerod's sparse, white-boarded set, where three doors – redolent of Russian orthodox services- play a vital role.

If it sounds a bit heavy, the evening is livened up by a particularly funny Trinculo, the very camp Ilya Ilin, and a swaggering Stephano from Sergey Koleshina, their trip to an upmarket clothes store is a delightful joy.

Shakespearean productions in another language by their very lose some of the poetical impact but Donnellan's production adds a particularly Russian slant to this story of loss and discovery, making for a bold and innovative take on the play.

- Maxwell Cooter


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