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The Tempest (Haymarket)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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This really is an island full of noises, sound and sweet airs: Trevor Nunn's production is full of it. Perhaps it's the number of musicals he's directed but it seems he can't resist a musical number.

Nor can he resist stage trickery; Nunn is pulling out all the stops, with an Ariel (played by three actors at this point) throwing fire during the storm. There's rope work a-plenty, 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.

Compared to more recent incarnations, Fiennes presents Propero as neither a domineering tyrant nor as a manipulator, but as a world-weary middle-aged man. Even when he's subjecting Ferdinand to his tasks, there's little sense of any dominance.

Fiennes is a superb verse speaker and he brings some tenderness to the role, not just to his daughter – there’s a real sense of Prospero as a father – but also to Ariel. Just as Miranda emerges as a young woman in the course of the play, so do we see Tom Byam Shaw's nicely-judged portrayal, develop a sense of humanity. When he’s finally set free, he departs with all the exuberance of a teenager leaving home for the first time.

He's well supported by Elisabeth Hopper's Miranda – full of teenage angst and totally smitten with Ferdinand. This is a totally believable teenager and well complemented by Michael Benz's Ferdinand.

Second billing is Nicholas Lyndhurst's Trinculo (surely a first for this character) but neither he, nor Clive Wood's Stephano, really get to grips with the comic potential of their characters – there have been far funnier pairings.

Better are the shipwrecked courtiers with Chris Andrew Mellon's rather camp Sebastian and Julian Wadham's scheming Antonio a choice pair of villains. There's also a rather fine Gonzalo from Andrew Jarvis, savouring every word.

This is 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.

- Maxwell Cooter


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