Theatre Review - 'The Tempest'

Posted on: 14 September 2011 by Alexander Hay

Trevor Nunn's new production of Shakespeare's supernatural fantasy play sees Ralph Fiennes in very fine form as Prospero

Live long and Prospero...The current trend in the West End to have a star name to boost theatre attendances has certainly paid off with the casting of Ralph Fiennes as the exiled magician Prospero in Trevor Nunn’s new production of Shakespeare’s shortest play The Tempest (Theatre Royal Haymarket). Fiennes brings a resonance and depth to the role that is truly impressive and the show has deservedly become the hottest ticket in town.

Master illusionist Prospero, once Duke of Milan, raises a storm in which his brother Antonio, together with Alonso, king of Naples, and others are shipwrecked after a perilous voyage. Antonio usurped Prospero’s dukedom and believes his son Ferdinand to have drowned. The party are all cast ashore on the desert island reigned over by Prospero with his supernatural powers, and, when Ferdinand first meets Prospero's daughter Miranda, they both fall in love. But will the fates conspire to keep them apart?

This is a play about revenge and reconciliation, authority and legitimacy, fate and predestination, as well as a parable about the triumph of virtue over vengeance. Nunn skilfully brings both these themes to a production concerned with the passing of time but, and while it is confidently orchestrated, there are several longeurs and it is never as magical as it promises to be. Furthermore the comic business no longer seems funny. However, there is no shortage of spectacle – an excitingly staged, grand storm that propels you into the action, not to mention flying spirits and strange sights.

But the best thing about the show is Fiennes’s commanding performance as Prospero, fall of tortured nobility. Indeed he brings a dignity and humanity that make the character more sympathetic than is generally the case. There is strong support from Elisabeth Hopper as Prospero’s daughter Miranda, Michael Benz as Ferdinand, Nicholas Lyndhurst as the inebriated pastor Trinculo, Giles Terera as a wounded, hissing Caliban, Andrew Jarvis as trusty retrainer Gonzalo, Julian Wadham as Prospero’s brother Antonio, and, most especially, Tom Byam Shaw as the airbone spirit Ariel, often accompanied by a chorus of cherubic creatures.

This production may not offer any new or startling insights but is nevertheless an intelligent and thought-provoking reading of what is generally considered to be Shakespeare’s last full-length play.

Runs until October 29

Box office: 0845 481 1870

Press: Premier PR 0207 292 8330

By Laurence Green

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Alexander Hay

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