The Tempest

William Shakespeare
Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, and touring
(2004)

Touring a show like The Tempest sounds like a nightmare. Despite the show’s demands for a stormy set and shouty characters, the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, has triumphed admirably. Their secret lies in a crowd-pleasing shifting of the focus of the piece.

Traditionally, the Bard’s late play is presented as a plea for sympathy all about imprisonment . Either Caliban, the chained beast, or Prospero, the exiled ruler, tend to hog the stage. Prospero’s journey towards a new form of enlightenment as his daughter finally discovers love is offered up as Shakespeare’s prime preoccupation.

In this production, however, Miranda’s feelings for the love of her life take centre stage. Cue a wonderfully winning performance from Sebastian Bates, the foppish Ferdinand. A likeable prig from start to finish, Bates wins the heart of the audience from the moment he threatens Abby Leamon’s Miranda with his sword. By the time he has started talking slowly to her (for fear the lovely creature will not know his tongue), his character is established as the most engaging one on display.

What unfolds is less a homage to the mystery of old age than a tender exploration of first romance. Like the best of art concealing art, this thoughtful performance only appears to be feelgood entertainment. Though the strobe-reliant moments of weather mayhem leave a little to be desired, Colin Blumenau’s solid direction ensures that this show is a good story well told.

Reviewer: Helena Thompson