Theatre: THE TEMPEST / BINGO The Young Vic, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Ben Jonson famously affected to dislike Shakespeare's later manner, referring to Pericles, for example, as "a mouldy play". So it's reasonable to assume that he would been less than thrilled by the new RSC double- bill at the Young Vic where he is impersonated in Edward's Bond's Bingo by the same actor who plays Caliban "this thing of darkness" in The Tempest. Highlighting the fact that both characters are resentful, potentially murderous underdogs (the one to an ineffable genius, the other to a magician), this pointed piece of cross-casting is typical of the suggestive parallels David Thacker's productions encourage you to make between Bond's speculative account of the Bard's last year and Shakespeare's tragicomic swan song.

Given that Bingo draws a portrait of Shakespeare rentier, willing to let land be enclosed for profit and to see the tenants disposed, it's puzzling, though, that these productions make so little of Prospero, the exploitative colonialist, to whom Caliban has to say, with some justice, "This island's mine". True, there's one point when the versatile spirits (who here obligingly turn themselves into the logs Ferdinand is forced to carry and the apparel in Prospero's wardrobe) lure the ship wrecked court to the false banquet by pretending to be guileless natives. But there's no tension in their relations with their magician-master, and in Bonnie Engstrom's primitive, tatterdemalion Ariel there's none of the suppressed contempt and icy hauteur that Simon Russell Beale managed to illicit from the role.

The issue of power is dealt with less forcefully than is the conflict between the human being and the artist in both Prospero and Bond's Shakespeare. Dressed in the same Jacobean costume, Paul Jesson graduates from impersonating a depressive, exasperatingly listless Bard, marooned in a selfishness he now deplores but cannot overcome, to portraying an isolated Prospero who remains on stage throughout, brooding over his magic book. With Sarah- Jane Holm playing both Miranda and Shakespeare's sourly chiding daughter Judith, bitter at paternal neglect in the Bond, you could be forgiven for thinking that the father-daughter relationship in The Tempest is the idealised compensatory projection of the guilty dramatist: "Go on. I'm not listening," announces Judith pettishly when Shakespeare wants to explain the past; "Your tale, sir, would cure deafness," coos compliant Miranda.

True to its wintry, overwhelming bleakness, Bingo is presented in a stage world that seems to have signed a unanimous pledge against colour. The stark, uncluttered severity of the design contrasts strikingly with The Tempest, which often looks like some congested dossers' hostel because of the misguided idea of having all the characters in Prospero's power slumped in sleep on the stage whenever they aren't acting. The direction at one moment brings out another big difference between these two works. When Shakespeare's daughter agitatedly hunts through his papers near the end of Bingo, it doesn't look like a genuine search at all. Ironically, this betrays the fact that, unlike The Tempest, Bond's play has planted beforehand everything it wants to find.

n In rep at the Young Vic (0171-928 6363)

Comments