This new production of The Tempest, starring Alex Kingston as Prospero, is “one of the most confident, complete evenings Stratford has offered in ages”, said Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph. Director Elizabeth Freestone’s animating conceit is that the storm-wracked island has been engulfed by the litter that has washed up on its shores – foregrounding the play’s underlying themes of mercantilism and colonialism.
The set has been created from “theatrical cast-offs and recycled junk” – yet the design features moments of “spellbinding beauty”, including several “coups de théâtre revealing Edenic vistas of unspoilt verdancy”. From the spot-on lighting to the inventive sound and movement, this production is “artistically water-tight” and thoroughly engaging.
Kingston, who made her name at the RSC 30 years ago, gives a “magnificent, revelatory” performance, said Mark Lawson in The Guardian. The great soliloquies in which the exiled duke disavows his (in this case, her) magus-like super-powers – “Our revels now are ended” and “This rough magic I here abjure” – are typically played as “elegiac farewells”. Here, they “feel closer to Christ at Gethsemane, a war between two natures. This Prospero rages against the dying of her might.”
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In a production that’s notably strong on verse speaking, Caliban’s “the isle is full of noises” is “tinglingly delivered” by Tommy Sim’aan. And as Ariel – her hair and make-up channelling David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane period – Heledd Gwynn is “alternately punchy, touching and tuneful until a spectacularly athletic exit”.
I wasn’t completely sold, said Dominic Maxwell in The Times. The Tempest is, “as the classical scholars don’t quite say, an all-you-can-eat-buffet of the bizarre”. It combines the “fantastical and the earthy”, and has some not-that-enthralling subplots that can become sluggish, regardless of the quality of the acting. This production is “inspired” in part, but also has moments that are “rather clunky”. Still, it is “stunning” to look at, and Kingston holds it all together with her assured performance. She “knows how to own that stage. And that island.”
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