The Tempest – YPS – September 2006

Experience: 3/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Patsy Rodenburg

Company: Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Monday 11th September 2006

I was a little disappointed with this, although there were a number of good points. The performances were generally good, but the delivery wasn’t always powerful enough, so lots of lines were lost. While I would agree with the cuts that had been made – the shipwreck, the performance of the goddesses, the fake feast – the resulting text felt a bit clumsy, and in some cases, where a ‘famous’ line had been kept, there were references that didn’t make sense in this version.

However, the staging worked well on the whole. The initial shipwreck is suggested with a piece of blue cloth held up, waist-high, by the characters on the ship (dressed in suits). At each end stands Ariel – in this production Ariel is being played by two actors, a man and a woman. This was a very unusual choice for me, and I thought it worked very well. In this case, it allowed the Ariels to start moving the cloth from side to side, causing the characters to sway, more and more, until eventually they are flung off, and leave the stage, while the Ariels float the cloth up like a roof. A very good evocation of the storm and shipwreck.

The dialogue starts with Miranda’s plea to Prospero to calm the storm, followed by his explanation (long overdue, it would seem) of their arrival at the island. Prospero has pictures which he gives Miranda to look at, of his disloyal brother, the King of Naples, and the good Gonzalo, this time played by a woman. As he mentions each one, the characters come on stage so we can see who they are; as an audience member, I always find this a helpful device.

Caliban is an unhappy creature, chained up when first we see him. He certainly doesn’t pay much attention to personal hygiene, but given the circumstances, that’s understandable. He tends to lope around on all fours, very like Crab in Two Gentlemen of Verona. I usually feel sorry for him; personally I think Prospero’s a bit of a control freak who’s taken over the island without a by-your-leave, and Caliban had every right to at least make a pass at Miranda, but I may be in the minority here.

Anyway, Prospero introduces Miranda to Ferdinand, achieves the desired result, and then we rattle through the attempts to cheer up the King, and the potential coup. I felt a lot of the humour was lost here, although some supporters behind us were doing their best to add a laughter track at every opportunity. (The giveaway was the laugh coming before anything funny had happened on stage.) But we do get a good sense of the King mourning for his son, believed dead. Meantime, Miranda and Ferdinand agree to marry, and after this we meet Trinculo and Stefano. Their business is so curtailed that it’s hard to make anything much of them. However, Trinculo is also played by a woman, and she gives the character all the trembling cowardice it needs, though the drunken scenes are weaker.

From here, it’s all straightforward to reconciliation, and a happy ending, finishing with Prospero’s ‘farewell’ to the spirits – no epilogue. I don’t think this play condensed as well as the others – I missed more than with the other YPS productions. But there were some good performances, and I dare say the children will enjoy this one – it’s very visual.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me