You Write The Reviews: The Tempest, Arts Theatre, London
Thursday 17 January 2008
Tara Arts's production of The Tempest gives us Shakespeare's late masterpiece in an hour and 45 minutes, with no interval, using six actors and the simplest of sets and stage effects.
The production succeeds because of the intelligence of its interpretation of the play as a statement about colonialism. Not all contemporary productions of classics that wish to suggest their relevance to the troubles of our times achieve their aim subtly. This one does.
The diversity of ethnicity represented by the actors, and the superimposed diversity brought about by their constant changing of hats and coats, remind us that oppression isn't a simplistically black/white thing, and that it does deep and lasting damage to the oppressor as well as to the oppressed.
Robert Mountford's Prospero, at the outset, is more of a martinet than a seer. This gives real impetus to the development of his character as true wisdom catches up and overtakes magic power, helped along by the most dynamic portrayal of his relationship with Ariel I have seen. Caroline Kilpatrick's Ariel is moody and strong, a long way from the familiar fluttering fairy. The extremity of her distress (she's definitely a female Ariel) at seeing the pains that her master has inflicted on the ne'er-do-wells from Milan – she bangs her head on the wall and weeps – is the tipping point of Prospero's decision to break his staff and drown his books. Chris Jack and Jessica Manley as Ferdinand and Miranda make the most instant and ardent of lovers, and Keith Thorne's Caliban elicits our sympathy, even as he leads Stephano (Tom Kanji, who is very good) and Trinculo (Robert Mountford again, this time with a Birmingham accent) on to murder Prospero.
All the actors speak Shakespeare's lines with such measured assurance that the spectator is overwhelmed by the genius of the writing. Shakespeare's greenery seems as good as his flowers. Of the flowers, the bloom that struck me most of all – saying in 13 syllables just about everything that needs to be said about human affairs – was "The rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance".
Jatinder Verma's consistent achievement at Tara has been to attract audiences to his shows that truly represent the population of these islands, and in particular of our cities. He is not unique in this, but he is certainly rare. The island performers and the island audience were close.
To 27 Jan (08448 47 1 608); then touring (www.tara-arts.com)
John Richmond, TV commissioning editor, London
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