The Tempest is one of the most difficult Shakespeare plays to stage, partly because of its numerous magical elements, but mostly because its confusing and multi-layered plot makes it hard to present in an engaging way. Gregory Doran’s bold and visually-striking version began at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre last year in a sold-out run, and was moved to London to continue its success.
Ultimately, however, Doran fails to overcome the principal difficulties involved in staging The Tempest. His direction lacked dynamism and, damningly, coherence. The impressive shipwreck, which the audience was met with from the outset, remains the single set for the entire length of the play, meaning that different locations on the desert island involuntarily merged and the play appeared lost in time. Also, the decision to have both a physical and computer-generated Ariel fairy character was unnecessary and ultimately distracted the audience’s attention. Most disappointingly of all, some elements descended into sheer pantomime. The Trinculo character’s persistent honking of a clown horn received possibly the greatest audience reaction of the night and, in the second half, various brightly-costumed “spirit” ladies appear and inexplicably sung opera.
Whilst Doran’s production was not all bad, Daniel Easton as Ferdinand particularly shining out, one felt that the audience was relieved to finally leave after three difficult hours. Jenny Rainsford as Miranda showed promise in the second half, but Simon Russell Beale’s Prospero was generally underwhelming, despite his performance being met with critical praise. I only hope the next RSC production of The Tempest will not similarly focus on computer-generated effects and expensive sets; Doran’s version straying heavily from the text was generally where it fell down.bookmark me