Theatre Royal Haymarket
Sir Trevor Nunn has created a Tempest that chooses to highlight art over glitzy excitement and is all the better for it. This is a traditional production, enhanced by visions that take on an almost fairytale quality, created with the aid of set and costume designer Stephen Brimson Lewis helped by the lighting of Paul Pyant.
Nunn's noble Prospero and Harry Potter nemesis, Ralph Fiennes, is the embodiment of calmness and dignity, rarely descending into anger and then imbuing it with sadness rather than fire. In his later soliloquies though, the canny old magician takes on an almost messianic aura.
His lead is followed throughout in a production that extends to three hours thanks to some song and dance and a deliberate decision to use a steady tempo, complemented by the music of Shaun Davey and careful enunciation. This ensures that every word is pronounced perfectly guaranteeing intelligibility.
The support is universally excellent. Sir Trevor has unearthed or showcased a number of fresh talents led by Tom Byam Shaw playing a sweet-natured, androgynous Ariel and Elisabeth Hopper as a kindly, young Miranda awed by her brave new world exemplified by Michael Benz's golden-haired, aristocratic Ferdinand,.
In fact, the elfin Ariel played by Byam Shaw merely represents a single facet of a character played by three actors and mirrored by a series of other ethereal spirits who between them sing, dance and perform aerial gymnastics, all in this production's characteristic soft focus.
Humour is injected by the director's careful textual analysis, which shows up comedy that might or might not have been intended by the playwright and also a delightful trio of unwitting clowns.
With his posh accent and lisp, Giles Terera makes Caliban very nearly as restrained and sympathetic as his master, while Clive Wood and Nicholas Lyndhurst (Rodney from and Only Fools and Horses) provide a delightful comic double act worthy of a music hall as bluff Stephano and his dim, tremulous Devonian partner in crime Trinculo. They so strongly suggest Sir Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek that one hopes Sir Trevor casts them as such the next time he revives Twelfth Night.
The last big grouping is that of Neapolitan noblemen, led by a particularly maudlin King, James Simmons looking rather like a hung-over seventies hippy, and his loyal if boring Counsellor, Andrew Jarvis as Gonzalo.
In this measured production, even the evil duo of Sebastian and Antonio (Chris Andrew Mellon and Julian Wadham) threaten in a rather genteel way, which some might feel is not quite the thing.
There is little to fault in an enjoyable evening that is highly fitting for this lovely old theatre with such a long history.
This Tempest will inevitably appeal to Shakespearean purists but should have as much attraction for those that only occasionally visit the theatre and might be a little wary of Shakespeare.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher