The Tempest ~ RSC, Stratford Upon Avon

The Tempest stays at Stratford until 21 January 2017: https://www.rsc.org.uk/the-tempest/about-the-play 

Star rating: *****

An extraordinary tale of betrayal, revenge and sorcery is brought to life thanks to wondrous special effects and a strong cast at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford Upon Avon.

The Tempest centres around Prospero (Simon Russell Beale) who is the rightful Duke of Milan and was betrayed by his brother, Antonio (Oscar Pearce). Antonio wanted the title of Duke and the property that came along with it, for himself, and set Prospero and his daughter Miranda (Jenny Rainsford) off to sea on a raft. This was twelve years earlier and against all odds, they have been living on an island.

With knowledge that Alonso, King of Naples (James Tucker) was travelling by ship with a party including Antonio, Sebastian, the King’s Brother (Tom Turner) and the King’s Son, Ferdinand (Daniel Easton) – Prospero uses the magic that he has learned to control, to create a horrific storm. The special effects and set used to mimic the storm are on par with the effects that are used in films and my heart was in my mouth while the ‘doomed’ troop was fearful for their lives.

Prospero, we learn, has not only taken control of the magic on the island, but also has a sprite by the name of Ariel (Mark Quartley) under his wing and has enslaved an inhabitant of the island, Caliban (Joe Dixon). Prospero’s tyranny is quite transparent, especially when it comes to his power over his daughter, too. Ariel longs for freedom which has been promised to him and Caliban wants his island to be returned to him so that he can live in peace. Meanwhile, Miranda falls in love with Ferdinand, who is brought to her and reciprocates her feelings. All of the ship’s passengers have made it ashore, unharmed, but they have been separated into three groups. Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian are among one group – where dark dealings are afoot with Antonia up to his old tricks and convincing Sebastian to murder the King, his brother. Alonso is caught up in grief as he believes that his Son, Ferdinand has not survived the storm.

The holographic technology utilised to aid the mystical appearance of Ariel offered a breath taking effect. Mark Quartley played the role with effortless elegance and roguish charm, anyway, however the added visuals were a stunning addition to the portrayal of the role. Joe Dixon had a caveman quality to his role of Caliban, primal and uncivilised, yet pained. It was a gritty performance which, I felt, earned much sympathy from the audience. Jenny Rainsford gave a balanced performance as Miranda, showing her girlish naivety and blending with a steely determination which escalated upon the arrival of Ferdinand. Daniel Easton was suitably love-struck as Ferdinand and demonstrated believable chemistry with Rainsford. I was instantly drawn to Oscar Pearce’s portrayal of Antonio, as it was clear which role he was playing before the introductions were made. Simpering, sarcastic and almost snarling at times, he was everything you would expect a traitor to be. Simon Russell Beale is an inspired choice as Prospero, he delivered the character’s monologues with ease, heart and precision. I found myself in turmoil as to my siding with him, unsure as to whether I pitied his misfortune at the hands of his brother or whether I despised him for his control of the island and his demands of Ariel.

My favourite characters in this story have always been the third party of castaways, Trinculo the jester (Simon Trinder) and Stephano the butler (Tony Jayawardena),

this motley pair bring light hearted moments when they’re needed and the casting of these two couldn’t have been better. Jayawardena in particular appears to be a very physical performer and he was able to play the drunken butler to hilarious perfection. Trinder bore a resemblance to Heath Ledger’s Joker from Batman, this in itself refocused my attention to the seriousness of the undertones where these characters are concerned.

Overall, this piece featured a spectacular set which made the best use of the stage, a cast who appear to have gelled, each member of whom embraced their role and brought out the themes of the play in their portrayals. The added magic and wonder which is provided throughout makes this a must-see this Christmas.

Photo credits: The RSC

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