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The Tempest (RSC's What Country Friends Is This? season)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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The Tempest (RSC) The Tempest is an enigmatic play and almost impossible to pin it down but David Farr’s elegant and melancholic production does much engages with both the play and the audience to often brilliant effect.

His deeply considered production uses the simplest of means to convey some very subtle moments of emotion and shifts in tone. He exploits the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to the fullest – delivering the magic of the play with often breath-taking audacity.

Jonathan Slinger is magnificent as Prospero. His is a mercurial interpretation: he switches mood from stern, chiding school teacher to playful manipulator with consummate skill. He is very contained and precise, using his voice with pinpoint accuracy to make every line count. It is really a performance that makes you view the character with fresh eyes. He alone makes the production worth seeing.

Also excellent are Sandy Grierson as a moving Ariel who matches the physicality of his master while also revelling in the more fantastical elements of his character. The relationship with Prospero is full of longing, regret and genuine affection – it is almost heart-breaking at times. Felix Hayes and Bruce Mackinnon (Trinculo and Stephano) mine their comic scenes with great skill.

As with the rest of this season, the set by Jon Bausor is outstanding. The use of a plastic box for Prospero’s cell is inspired and creates some memorable images. It has been said that the new theatre prohibits the potential for great scenic design that was possible in the old theatre but Bausor’s work proves quite the opposite. Truly outstanding.

The music (Adem Ilhan) and sound (Christopher Shutt) add to the atmosphere without drawing attention to themselves.

There are some problems. The opening scene – the tempest itself – is delivered with very distorted voices making it nearly impossible to pick out any of the lines. And I was un-convinced by the relationship between Miranda and Ferdinand which felt less well developed than some of the other partnerships on stage.

But this is an understated and beautifully judged piece of directing with moments that I will treasure. Not perfect – but the best thing you will see in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre this season.


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