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Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon    

The Tempest
5.0Reviewer's Rating

If I could give this production of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest more than five stars, I would. This is one of those rare productions that I believe will live in legend and be considered not only for its brilliant presentation of Shakespeare’ wonderful play but also as a breakthrough approach and conceptualisation akin to Peter Brook’s famous Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Everything about this production works and one can only assume the most astonishing teamwork from everyone involved. The visual presentation and the music are as integral to the experience as the acting; and the acting is totally convincing by everyone throughout. The star turn, of course, is Alex Kingston as Propsero. She dominates the proceedings as Propsero must and it does not matter one whit that this Prospero is performed by a woman. She commands the stage and inhabits the role with total authority.

In fact, some of the players of men’s parts like Prospero and Gonzalo being played by women adds, for me, an extra layer to the play. Alex Kingston is totally believable as someone who inherited power and then naively trusted her brother too much because of her obsession with magic and spirituality and all things intellectual. But the fact that Prospero is a woman of course makes one think, in today’s world, of any female CEO who is the object of jealousy and misogyny, conscious or not, by the men who are her deputies. But the themes of vengeance versus forgiveness, of the darker side of human nature and the possibility of redemption, are all fully realised and exceedingly moving.

Every nuance Shakespeare is completely comprehended, explored and portrayed in this astonishingly moving and delightful production directed by Elizabeth Freestone. One of my take-aways from seeing this production is that I would now go see anything direct by Freestone. From the original way she directs the famous opening sequence of the actual tempest to the closing image of this story, every aspect of the performance is enlightening, stimulating and often also provocative.

Every line reading by every single member of the cast is clear, clean and often surprising, yet never seems wrong. Alex Kingston is especially gifted at giving a pause, an inflection, a slight shift of rhythm that makes you truly listen to the text while at the same time admiring her interpretation. The Masque actually works and is magical. The romance of Joseph Payne’s Ferdinand  and Jessica Rhodes’s Miranda feels real and touching. I found myself admiring Heledd Gwynn’s Ariel and Tommy Sim’aan’s Caliban completely, all the more so because there was no fakery in either performance, nothing shallow. I liked the Gonzalo of Ishia Bennison and all three of the spirits in the Masque.

It is very difficult to praise this production or the people involved enough. There was no one on that stage whom I would not wish to see again and watch in different roles, from David Osmond who was a striking Mariner and Spirit right through to Alex Kingston herself, who should now simply be cast as Beatrice, Cleoptra and Katharine of Aragon as soon as possible. Maybe even Richard II or Richard III?

The evening is, without a doubt, one of the most moving, engaging, and intelligent productions of this play I have ever seen. I know that I will never see it bettered. I also want to report a wonderful experience at the play I met and shared this experience with a group of six women who had studied the play at school together years ago. They decided to make this performance an excuse for a reunion, even though some of them were not so sure about Shakespeare. After the performance they waited for me to tell me they were all as excited and captivated as I was. They loved the production. They loved the English teacher who had taken them through the play when they were teenagers. They agreed with enthusiasm that this is without any doubt a landmark production.

  • Drama
  • By William Shakespeare
  • Director Elizabeth Freestone
  • Puppetry Director and Designer Rachael Canning
  • Photo by Ikin Yum (c) RSC
  • Cast includes Alex Kingston, Jessica Rhodes, Heledd Gwynn, Tommy Sim’aan, Joseph Payne, Peter de Jersey, Ishia Bennison
  • Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon    
  • Until 4 March 2023

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Canadian-born Mel Cooper first came to the UK to study English Literature at Oxford University and stayed. He was captivated by the culture and history of Britain, which he found to be a welcoming and tolerant country. After working in highly illustrated, non-fiction publishing for over a decade, he founded and edited the magazine Opera Now. Since then he has worked as a consultant to the Japanese broadcaster NHK, a broadcaster on British Satellite Broadcasting, a maker of audio shows and arts critic for several airlines, and as one of the team that started Britain’s first commercial classical music radio station, Classic FM, on which he was both a classical music DJ and creator and presenter of shows like Classic America and Authentic Performance. Throughout this period, he also lectured in music and literature in London and Oxford and published short stories in Canada. After working with the Genesis Foundation on helping to fund arts projects, he continues to write, review and lecture on music and literature. His first novel has just been published as an e-book. The title is City of Dreams. It is the first volume of a projected saga called The Dream Bearers. You can find the Kindle version of the book on Amazon.

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