THEATRE / Ariel vision: Paul Taylor on Sam Mendes's production of The Tempest at the Barbican
Friday 15 July 1994
You can tell there's no love lost from the tiny, insubordinate time-lags Beale's Ariel allows before he attends to commands and from the way the Kohl-rimmed eyes slither with a hint of subversion in that sphinx-like face. It's utterly compelling theatre, but this interpretation of Ariel runs into one grave snag. It drains all conviction from that key moment when the plight of Prospero's victims moves Ariel to a sudden intuition of human compassion, and Prospero, chastened to be reminded of fellow-feeling by a member of another species, shifts from vengeance to mercy. Here, the moment goes for nothing because mild-mannered McCowen has so little to learn on that score and Beale's Ariel would, in any case, be the unlikeliest of tutors.
From scene to scene and effect to effect, this Tempest is a magical experience, with its hypnotic, tinkling music by Shaun Davey. To my mind, though, some of the mystery and meaning of the drama gets lost in Mendes's playfully illusionistic approach to the piece. All the island's a stage from the outset here, with Ariel springing out of a wicker prop basket and unleashing the tempest with a swing of a storm lantern. People are carted on and off in this conveyance, or emerge like actors from behind a Magritte-like screen that's painted in the same fleecy pattern as the cloudscape behind. Like the giant Pollocks toy theatre that houses the masque, it's all good self-referential fun. The objection remains, though, that all the island becomes a stage only towards the end, with Prospero's eventual image of life and theatre dissolving into one another. If everything is announcing itself as 'theatre' from the outset, that perception is pre-empted.
The low-life conspiracy scenes have, if anything, gained in comic bite since Stratford. David Troughton's Caliban is a powerfully arresting mix of thuggish Japanese wrestler and vulnerable dreamer. David Bradley, hilariously turning Trinculo into a lanky northern ventriloquist, here loses his preposterous lookalike dummy, which I don't recall in Stratford. Decked out in stolen regal finery, Bradley reminds you irresistibly of a P G Tips chimp impersonating the Queen Mother.
His sidekick Stephano, played by excellent Mark Lockyer as a buck-toothed, belching cross between Terry Thomas and Sir Les Patterson, at one point endeavours to take a drunken leak into the omnipresent wicker basket, his copious arcs of urine landing everywhere but. An emblem of the production, that: vivid, unforgettable and questionably angled.
Booking: 071-638 8891
The best TV shows and films coming to the servicetv
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
- 2 This restaurant has misunderstood the concept of 'cheese and biscuits'
- 3 Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face death penalty
- 4 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 5 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
Game of Thrones season 5 spoilers: What we can expect according to George RR Martin's books
Spectre: Director Sam Mendes teases clips from upcoming James Bond movie
Indian Summers recommissioned: Channel 4 confirm a second series of British Empire drama
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
The Casual Vacancy finale review: Superb cast, luscious cinematography - shame about the confused ending
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut