The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, is currently enjoying a golden period. This has included Kenneth Branagh's return to the stage in Richard III, a revival of David Hare's Teeth and Smiles and now, Sir Derek Jacobi starring in Michael Grandage's The Tempest.
Michael Grandage has recently been appointed as artistic director of the Donmar in succession to Sam Mendes. This production would probably have worked well at his new home but given the size of audience that the producers must have hoped for- and ideally, the need for a very large stage area - the Old Vic seems perfect. This is the kind of Shakespeare production that Edward Hall is regularly presenting at the moment. It is heavily cut, running for under two-and-a-half hours including an interval but it is full of life and is the best Tempest production for many a day.
Sir Derek is a very fine actor and he holds the eye and ear of the viewer whenever he appears or speaks on stage as Prospero, the old man betrayed by a perfidious brother. There is a lightness to his performance that makes Prospero seem far more human and generous than is sometimes the case. You can see his sorrow at being forced to trap Ariel. His anger at the exploits of Caliban and the betrayal by his brother and cohorts is more weary than fiery.
The supporting cast is almost equally good. Daniel Evans as a rather camp Ariel, flits around the stage beautifully from the moment that he appears with his two acolytes holding his gigantic butterfly wings. His appearance later in the play in a clap of thunder as a demon with massive black wings, a mask and a wicked grin is also quite stunning. He is aided in his role by his beautiful voice (that assisted him to an Olivier for best musical actor) and Julian Phillips' ethereal music largely played on harp, flute and strings, which brings extra magic to the production.
Louis Hilyer is an extremely dirty but very human Caliban who comes into his own when he meets Nigel Lindsey's Stephano and Iain Robertson's extremely Scottish Trinculo. Together, they gallivant around like a bunch of adolescent children who have found their parents' whisky bottle.
Not only does Grandage do the magical scenes well, the love that grows between an incredibly innocent Miranda (Claire Price) and the well-muscled Ferdinand (Sam Callis) is quite believable and rather touching.
The production benefits greatly from the set designed by Christopher Oram that contains a crumbling proscenium arch around Prospero's Cell within that of the Old Vic. In addition, he starts off the play with a little bit of magic, which warms the audience up nicely. Hartley T A Kemp could well win a lighting design award as well. His combination of sympathetic and blinding is excellent and he never seems to put a foot wrong.
All in all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable experience and anyone with the opportunity should ensure that they book tickets early.
This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher