The Tempest, Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London
Thursday 08 September 2011
Shakespeare's last play is one of his shortest and can sometimes zoom by in 90 minutes. But with Ralph Fiennes at the commanding centre of Trevor Nunn's melancholic production, you don't really mind the clock ticking past the three-hour mark.
That time span approximates to the "real time" of the action, as Prospero gathers his enemies to his remote island and bids farewell to his daughter, his magic, his spirits and his art. There is a touch of the magus and the prophet about Fiennes, but he's also an unusually virile and determined Prospero: and he speaks the verse so naturally and beautifully.
He emerges quietly from his cell, murmuring to himself as he opens his book and raises his staff. His rough magic is contained within the wider function of theatrical wizardry, as the whole cast of characters will exit through his cell.
So he really does put on "a show" to achieve his vengeful and conciliatory purposes. Ariel, decorously intoned by a blond and body-stockinged Tom Byam Shaw, flies around on a trapeze and is replicated in two other carbon copies and a tribe of spirits who serve up the banquet, chase down the sailors as hell hounds and join in a rustic bacchanal at Juno's ceremonial rites.
Fiennes is loving every minute of his creation until he suddenly snaps into mission mode, gathering his project to a head and summoning his final resolution in those great tumbling speeches, which he discharges painfully and with an impressively fluent accomplishment.
Even the image of his daughter, Miranda, impulsively and attractively played by Elisabeth Hopper, absorbed in a game of chess with Michael Benz's fresh-faced, slightly priggish Ferdinand, is one more sleight of hand.
Prospero does what we all want to do: make friends with enemies and move on, leaving the house in good order. This controlling side of him is sometimes tiresome, but Fiennes invests his programme with such charm and sincerity, you find the tone is predominantly one of reconciliation, not vengeance.
Nicholas Lyndhurst, who does too little stage work, gives the sottish Trinculo a wonderful air of baffled timidity, bouncing off the coarse-grained Stephano of Clive Wood.
To 29 October (0845 481 1870)
Review: Of Mice and Men
By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work
Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar
What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?
Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings
The actor has confessed to his own insecurities
Allotments are the focus of a new reality show
Arts & Ents blogs
The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat – and benefit reforms may be to blame
US Navy christens huge $3 billion destroyer ship USS Zumwalt that appears as a fishing boat on enemy radar
Scottish independence: It is the English who should be on their knees, begging the Scots to vote ‘No’
Nigel Farage fatigue? Half of voters ‘immune’ to Ukip’s appeal
Nigel Farage: I’m taking on the status quo, and the Establishment’s fighting back
Refugee facing deportation from Sweden saved by fellow passengers refusing to let plane leave
- 1 Are you turning into your dad? The top ten signs you've embraced dad-ism revealed as survey says 38 is age men turn into their father
- 2 Overheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
- 3 Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'
- 4 24 people applied for the 'world's toughest job', here are their interviews
- 5 Grace Dent on TV: Game of Thrones has jumped the shark