RSC The Tempest: Gale force production leaves plenty for the beachcomber - The Leamington Observer

RSC The Tempest: Gale force production leaves plenty for the beachcomber

Leamington Editorial 3rd Feb, 2023 Updated: 8th Feb, 2023   0

The Tempest

RSC, Stratford

The Tempest is almost upon us we are warned. Not just the vast sea storm that will drive the human action of the play, but the gathering pace and clamour of the destructive revenge nature is about to take on a world that has abused it too long.

It’s a peculiarity of Shakespeare that although he didn’t set out to write an eco-thriller, his work can be adapted to that end and – most astonishingly – that it works so well.




Elizabeth Freestone’s no-holds-barred assault on the senses starts from the off. You know you’re in a for a loud evening in this place when the first five minutes are screamed over the full forces of the stage’s storm effects. And, in truth, it doesn’t let up. Angry, blustery and destructive – and that’s just the acting.

Alex Kingston brings a motherly touch to Prospero without losing any of the command and majesty countless bearded men with staves have perviously offered. Swapping the role in this way has the effect of throwing the light on a very touching mother and daughter relationship and the ‘no sex before the wedding’ conversation is all the more affecting for that.


Much of the first half is necessarily mired in a lot of heavyweight exposition and lengthy plotting. So it’s the second half which contains the fun and some of the most impressive stage pictures seen for a long while.

There are fine performances throughout with nobody seemingly willing to step back from the full-on instruction of the day. Jessica Rhodes and Joseph Payne as the lovers Miranda and Ferdinand are delightfully light and their stumbling duet of discovery at the weather-beaten piano is an inspired touch.

Good showings come too from Heledd Gwynn’s street smart Ariel, Jamie Ballard’s nicely considered plotter Antonio and Simon Startin’s shamelessly show-off drunken butler.

In a company piece there are some fabulous staged moments, the storm, the appearance of the winged spirits and the gradually circling gathering at the end. There’s a lot to see.

Tom Piper’s fabulously complex, constantly changing set is a character in itself, changing gradually from wrecked ship, through makeshift camp to a beautiful forest with so many surprises along the way.

The washed-up remnants of unchecked modern consumerism provide a constant theme in the action. Dirty containers recycled as drinking vessels, discarded bottles as markers on a plan, plastic sheets of floating wrappers and packets serving as skirts for the gods of nature. And, in a nod to the mess on our beaches, many characters wearing oddly paired trainers. Who would have thought the threat to our natural habitat would be so beautiful and at the same time practical?

This is a production which in set, costume, acting, music and direction throws absolutely everything in. The only surprise is that nobody thought to add the kitchen sink to the pile of beached detritus – it really is there.

The Tempest runs until March 4, and more details can be found at rsc.org.uk .

Matthew Salisbury

 

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