Jermyn Street Theatre

The Tempest

Reviewer's rating

Back in March last year, this production was only a few days into its run when the Pandemic struck, and the theatres were locked down.  Now, at last, it has returned, with only one change of cast.  The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s best-loved plays, and once again the tiny Jermyn Street Theatre has proved that small can be beautiful, and that a very limited space can be turned into a magical space, in which both a shipwreck and an island appear before our eyes.

Jermyn Street Theatre

The set, with undulations suggestive of the sea, combines with strobe lighting and weird, echoing sounds (the isle indeed is “full of noises”) to create a world in which Prospero can work his rough magic and Ariel can do her (for she is a most agile black songstress) “spiriting gently”.  Best of all is the cast.  They do some amazing doubling-up.  The same actor is both the vulgar comedian, Trinculo, and the plotting brother to the King of Naples, while another is both the drunken butler, Stephano, and Prospero’s dastardly brother, the Duke of Milan.  Most amazing of all is the transformation of the young and handsome prince, Ferdinand, into the smelly monster, Caliban.  How do they manage these changes of costume and character so seamlessly?

It is the language, however, that holds the key to a great production.  To hear Shakespeare spoken well is such a joy, and all the cast here do that splendidly.  The plot is made easy to follow, and is enlivened with some knock-about comedy.  But the theme of revenge giving way to forgiveness and resignation is a moving one, and this cynical old reviewer had to take his tissue out as Michael Pennington enunciated those wonderful lines of Prospero’s about the ending of the revels and the breaking of his staff, albeit he had needed his book to work that rough magic.  This is a theatrical experience to treasure.