Thursday, 20 October 2016

'The Tempest' by Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadler's Wells

Last week we popped up to Sadler's Wells to see the Birmingham Royal Ballet's version of 'The Tempest'. They performed a really good triple bill of ballets this time last year so I was looking forward to this full length interpretation of 'The Tempest'. It's one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, full of magic and drama, but I've yet to see a version that blows me away - maybe this would be the production?

It opens with a glistening sailing boat suspended in the sea, rocking gently, and then Ariel swims underneath and lifts the boat up into the sky as he soars out of the ocean (on wires, obviously, rather visible wires) and creates the tempest. This lovely, poetic start didn't continue though. We're introduced to Prospero's island and the characters in a rather literal way, following the play in most respects - sadly including the comedy characters and scenes - which was, I think, a missed opportunity. I was very surprised to see Prospero played as a younger man, tall and lithe, dancing almost like a lover with Miranda, his daughter. And what were the long leather black boots all about? Why would a Duke of Milan wear pirate boots?

I think Prospero is the nub of my problem with the production and the literal telling of the story. It's a ballet so needs to be full of dance. Generally speaking, it's unusual for (ahem) older folks to do exciting ballet moves and Prospero is meant to be an older man - not an old dodderer the way he's sometimes played as, but certainly not in the league of a ballet dancer. And that's partly why I was so surprised by the literal story. The play could have easily been re-focussed on the young lovers so that they (and some made up companions, possibly) could have been the focus for the energetic dancing while the older generation dealt with plot interludes and suchlike. Jenna Roberts and Joseph Caley made a charming couple as Miranda and Ferdinand and they should've been on stage together a lot more that they were.

I loved the sets of sandbanks and broken ships hulls and the lighting was great but there was a lack of magic and spectacle. The marriage pageant scene with goddesses arriving on the backs of peacocks and a green Poseidon leaping all over with his trident was great fun and offered opportunities to go mad and give us sparkle but one scene doesn't make a ballet. It also served to highlight the absence of sparkle in the rest of the production.

Thank you Birmingham Royal Ballet, I enjoyed the show and it was a great night out but this wasn't the production of 'The Tempest' to blow me away and make me walk in magic. Maybe next time...

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