The Tempest

William Shakespeare
The Bridge Project
Old Vic

Production photo

Sam Mendes has spent a lot of time working in film recently and that is apparent in his vision for The Tempest, the companion piece to As You Like It in the 2010 Bridge Project.

His production is constructed on the edifice of a series of sometimes spectacular vignettes that do not necessarily build up to make the whole bigger than its parts.

His Prospero, Stephen Dillane, conducts ceremonies looking like the kind of eccentric that shouts at invisible demons on street corners. Ironically Prospero speaks very quietly throughout, as if to camera, seemingly unable to raise his voice even in anger, preferring quiet sorrow.

His cell-hold comprises a rum bunch. Juliet Rylance plays Miranda as a real sweetie who loves her Dad but is then struck dumb by Edward Bennett's noble Ferdinand. The response is mutual.

The American actors are less prominent, though they do land and enjoy the roles as good and bad spirits.

Christian Camargo is far better cast as Ariel than as Orlando in As You Like It. In white face, he is really angelic, singing sweetly and loyally carrying out his master's duties in response to the promise of impending freedom. The spirit is certainly kept busy with all of the goings on across Prospero's Island, made suitably ethereal by Mark Bennett's eerie musical soundscape.

Ariel's antithesis is bitter witch's son Caliban, given suitable venom and a vein of wild anger by Ron Cephas Jones. He gets a share in a favourite scene, sucking up to that pair of hilarious drunks Stephano and Trinculo, played by a great Transatlantic double act of Thomas Sadoski (a real find for British theatregoers) and Anthony O'Donnell (already much loved).

Mendes chooses to play a slightly shortened version straight through. This takes 2¼ hours and never drags, as we are assailed with a stream of unforgettable images.

For some the highlight might be a fiendish, fiery vision of Ariel as a vindictive eagle, though others may prefer a sub-Manet scene complete with Lloyd Webber-style song delivered by Jenni Barber or even our lovable sprite in a ball gown (?????) .

While this is a pleasant and at times spectacular interpretation, the thrust of the narrative often loses out to a desire for novelty. Some may also have preferred a more assertive lead, although the laid back Stephen Dillane really emphasises Prospero's humanity and is well supported by the Anglo-American cast.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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