Theatre Review: A Tempest off stage

The Tempest/Cymbeline, RSC

Theatre: The Tempest /



The isle is full of noises? The aisle is full of The Tempest in Adrian Noble's new production at Stratford. Great play is made of a ramp which leads right out into the audience and through to the back exit. Scott Handy's loinclothed, white-painted weirdo of an Ariel lures the mesmerised, unwitting shipwrecked courtiers up and down this route. Stationed halfway along it, David Calder's fiercely intelligent Prospero observes the budding romance between his daughter and the son of an enemy from the same perspective as the audience, and its in this spot that the young couple watch the aborted masque.

Followers of the RSC might be tempted to see this as a sort of rueful in-joke. The main stage at Stratford has, after all, not been the happiest area, creatively speaking, of late. Its ironic that the best recent Shakespeare production there - Nobel's own Cymbeline - was of a play that, magnificent though it is, is not exactly a crowd puller. Many other efforts have been routine and dismal: either bored novelty-for-novelty's-sake (like the current Twelfth Night) or echoing empty middle-of-the-road fare (like the current Merchant of Venice). A radical rethink of the space and of the actor / spectator relationship seems called for, or failing that, mainstage productions that get off the main stage as much as possible like this Tempest.

But its not just because it goes walkabout that Nobel's new production proves aesthetically and emotionally satisfying. True, some of the spectacle is a bit naff; for example, moving around, encased in sewn-up rectangles of purplish cloth, the spirits perform in a manner suggestive of some avant-garde advertisement for teabags. The proceedings are given a compelling emotional unity, though, by David Calder - an actor born to play Prospero - as a troubled, self-divided mage.

There's a gone-through-the-mill, lived-in quality about Calder, a vehemence that always looks poised to curdle into angry disgust (as witness his current Sir Toby Belch). He is adept at capturing glinting dangerous visionaries (as witness his Captain Ahab). Put the two together, and add the ability to hint at miles of human hinterland with the cock of an eyebrow, and you have a very powerful Prospero.

As he tacks between determination and lapses into uncertainty, Calder's hero retains the capacity to catch you off guard. I've never been more startled by the famous moment where Prospero renounces magic by breaking his staff. Calder has this object jauntily slung across his shoulders as, chuckling a bit defensively, he watches Ariel (whom he has just freed) loping off down the ramp. Then, on a sudden half-beat, he snaps the staff - a thrilling moment because you can see that this Prospero has had to take himself unawares to be able to perform this momentous act at all.

Forgiveness, which comes hard in The Tempest - a late play - comes a bit too easily in Shakespeare's early comedy, The Two Gentleman of Verona, revived now in a stylish, enjoyable and well-pondered modern dress revival in the Swan by Edward Hall. Maybe the playful way it stresses the Italian setting is overdone at points, but it has, in Dominic Rowan's Proteus, a most attractive and skilful account of darkly comic, uneasy bad faith from a young actor who has a faint touch of Cary Grant.

The test of any production of Two Gents is how its negotiates the notorious queasy sequence where a character, who has just caught his best pal about to rape his girlfriend, actually offers him the girlfriend to prove that he's man enough to accept apologies from a mate. Hall gets round this by emphasising that everyone is behaving in a state of shock and, in a play that at times uncharacteristically sidelines females - by allowing the final spotlight to fall on a touching embrace between the two gentlewomen of Verona.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own