Play: The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Director: Trevor Nunn
Notable actors: Ralph Fiennes as Prospero
So I was really fortunate last Tuesday as a friend of mine managed to secure tickets to see The Tempest at the Haymarket Theatre in Piccadilly – a play that I’d been longing to see for awhile as it contained quite a of of my favourite things: namely mischievous sprites and sea storms. The fact that Ralph Fiennes was acting in it was really just the icing on the cake – I was pretty damn excited when we got tickets. The Tempest is a play I’m actually not that familiar with, which I suppose was good in a way – sometimes it’s best to go in without any preconceived ideas.
Needless to say the production had some pretty awesome moments – the use of lighting and staging was really truly impressive and did a lot for the atmosphere of the play. One of my favourite moments (not including the sea storm at the beginning of course which was EPIC) was when Prospero called on the naiads and Juno to witness Miranda and Ferdinand’s engagement. The use of coloured lights and music and choral singing all combined to form a truly quite magical scene – all of which is suddenly shattered when Prospero remembers Caliban and the lighting changes dramatically to a stark harsh white light, revealing the set and stage for what it really is – colourless and bleak. It also made the sprites look suddenly really quite creepy, without all those colours to soften them, which I think was a nice touch. The sudden change in mood and atmosphere was palpable and really effective, and it was lighting techniques like these I think that really helped make the production as good as it was.
I also loved the comedic aspects of the play – the actors that played Stefano and Trinculo were brilliant as comic relief; and props go to Miranda and Ferdinand who were also very funny, most especially in the scene where Prospero gets Ferdinand to swear he won’t sleep with Miranda until after their marriage, which was played for laughs very effectively – especially as in this production of The Tempest Ferdinand and Miranda are very much teenagers who seem to want nothing more than to jump each other’s bones. I especially love Miranda’s line “Oh brave new world that has such people in’t!” and the way it was twisted around and turned into an exclamation of admiration for the male form upon seeing all the king’s men. 😉
Ralph Fiennes is obviously excellent as Prospero, and I think the moments where you get to see father and daughter interact was very effective – in a way, I think I’d have preferred if more of the focus had been given to their relationship rather than on Prospero’s revenge and eventual forgiveness of his enemies (but I guess that wasn’t really the main plot of the play, which is a shame). While there was something touching about Prospero’s relationship with Miranda, there was something equally very uncomfortable about seeing him manipulate his daughter like one of many pawns. Of course, the play was written when it was, and back then daughters were pretty much only good for marrying off – but it seems a shame that this production couldn’t have tried to bring out Prospero’s love for his daughter a bit more.
All of this said, the show-stealer was definitely Giles Terera as Caliban. While Tom Byam Shaw was very good as Ariel (I was very fond of the way he moved – he had a physical lightness and quickness about him that was exactly what I imagined a sprite would be like), I felt that when he spoke, he spoke in a way that was somewhat OTT and distracting. Caliban on the other hand spoke and moved like I imagine a fish-monster/demon to move and speak like and he was brilliant in every scene he was in.
I do feel however, that the play could have emphasised Prospero accepting responsibility for the way Caliban turned out a bit more – not having read or studied the play myself I may be wrong, but it seemed to me like that was quite an important and pivotal part of Prospero’s character development. Ariel is the one to show him his lack of empathy and forgiveness, but surely the moment when Prospero accepts his part in the development of Caliban is the moment when the true change occurs, the moment when Prospero truly does learn and grow? I think it also largely bothered me because the ending seemed rather flat and anti-climatic. Everything seems forgiven too easily – and the way Caliban submits to Prospero’s pretty patronising forgiveness is kind of galling considering that wrong occurred on both sides. I think maybe this only bothers me as much as it does because they’ve cast one of the only person of colour in the cast as Caliban (which I’m assuming was done on purpose as a form of social commentary) but if so the social commentary seems to fall a bit flat, as the ending with Prospero freeing and forgiving Caliban smacks pretty horribly of white saviour complex. (Also you know, the bit where Caliban ‘the native’ mistakes Stefano for a god and the fact that he has previously tried to rape Miranda. Yeah…might just be me, but I think anyone who comes from a country or a part of the world that has had to submit to colonialism will understand why this makes me super uncomfortable. I’ve been told that this isn’t an unusual reading/interpretation of Caliban – and that seems fair enough, but I think if you’re going to go with a anti-colonialist reading of the text then you have to make that very clear, and in this case I didn’t really feel like it was). Of course, it could have just been me, but apparently I’m not the only one who thinks the ending was a bit iffy.
All in all an enjoyable production, but a shame that some of the central themes (forgiveness, humanity, accepting responsibility for one’s mistakes) weren’t given the importance that they deserved.