The Tempest

William Shakespeare
The Horse Hospital, Russell Square
(2006)

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It might first be helpful to establish credentials. This reviewer has seen and reviewed hundreds of productions of Shakespeare's plays over the years. Amongst these have been several Tempests that have varied from those that it would be tragic to forget to those that one wishes one could forget.

This production, which was originally billed to run for ninety minutes, eventually came in somewhat short of an hour on press night. Although the speech was not always audible, it was rarely gabbled and therefore one might conclude that something like three-quarters of the text has been excised from this multimedia production in the strangest of venues, the attic of a deconsecrated horse hospital in the heart of central London.

Visitors are strongly advised to seek out the plastic chairs, as they have some kind of padding and the alternative seemed to be ammunition boxes that must be very hard on the nether parts. They also form part of the ambience, as do the shells that litter the theatre and must presumably have been occupants of those boxes.

Victor Spinetti, fondly remembered for his numerous appearances in British comedies of the Sixties and Seventies including a couple of Beatles movies, stars as a Prospero clearly modelled on John Gielgud in Peter Greenaway's avant garde film, Prospero's Books.

The old man sits at a crowded desk desperately pumping away at a remote control and speaking into a microphone as the remainder of the cast appear on one large, rather grainy TV screen and three smaller ones of differing colours.

After a rather soothing, if wild, seascape Prospero starts talking and meaning - not to mention William Shakespeare's original - disappear never to return.

As far as one can gather, the old man has two servants, an Ariel with a broad West Indian accent who seems decidedly unpleasant, and a Caliban who makes surprisingly little impression, positive or negative. Like everyone apart from Prospero, they solely act on screen until the final moments of the play when each appears in the flesh, to be offered their freedom.

A handsome man called Ferdinand features in much of the video footage wooing and eventually capturing a pretty young lady, presumably Prospero's daughter Miranda, although it would not be safe to put a bet on that.

Otherwise, a couple of different groupings of older people wander around aimlessly, one led by Prospero's brother the would-be Duke of Milan, and the other of mixed gender seemingly formed of random people picked out because they happened to be on the beach at the time.

Quite what has happened to Shakespeare's plot and a fair number of his characters remains unexplained and since seasoned fans of the Bard had little idea of what was going on, anyone who has not previously seen or read the play is likely to be completely baffled.

They must be some kind of unifying logic behind this cut-down Tempest but as readers will already have realised, it completely passed this reviewer by. Enough said.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher