Monday, 21 August 2017

'The Tempest' at the Barbican

The Barbican isn't my favourite arts venue but it's producing the latest version of 'The Tempest' but the Royal Shakespeare Company with Simon Russell Beale as Prospero and loads of technical floo-flam so I had to go. I want to see Ariel fly and create storms and one day I will. This was a step in the right direction but didn't quite do it for me - Ariel actually flies, y'know, he doesn't just pretend to fly.

You know the story of 'The Tempest' right? Prospero is the deposed Duke of Milan and is exiled to an island with his daughter where he finds Caliban and Ariel. He conjures a storm to shipwreck his enemies and extract his revenge, finally giving up his magic to return to Milan. O yes, a nice straight forward narrative that's anything but straight forward. But is full of magic and amazing verse.

Layered on top of this is a set decked out like the carcass of the great ship that is wrecked at the start of the play. The ribs of the ship like a giant whale on the stage. This is where the magic starts, with lighting that makes the ship rock and move like a ship in jeopardy before sinking. The magic lighting continues with Ariel as a physical actor and as a magical sprite playing in and around the lights on the stage, bound in the tree and escaping to see his new master, Prospero.

It was great to see the special effects that tried to bring the magic in the play to the stage. We see Ariel trapped in the tree by Sycorax, Caliban's witch mother, and freed by Prospero to then enslave the sprite to his will. It was all pretty spectacular and very well acted. but it was't quite the magic I expected. I don't really know what was missing but it seemed a bit contrived and over-worked. I liked the wedding scene when Proposer summons the three goddesses and I thought that worked better than some of the more tech-heavy scenes.

Overall, I'm pleased to have seen this new version of 'The Tempest'. It wasn't all that I'd hoped for but will any production have the seal of magic around it? On the plus side, this had Simon Russell Beale as Prospero, deposed Duke and master manipulator.  I also enjoyed Mark Quartley as Ariel slinking around the set when he wasn't captured in video shots somewhere in the air. It occasionally felt as if the set ruled the production rather than the play or the actors. Trying to fit everything into the stage is a problem particularly when the basic stage remains the same (ie the wreck of a ship) but it just about managed to rise above this.
I'm pleased to have seen this production but I'm still waiting to see my perfect 'Tempest'... one day ...

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