The Tempest is the latest, and least farcical, of the Shipwreck Trilogy of plays that the Royal Shakespeare Company has brought to London, and David Farr’s production generates its own unique atmosphere by being coolly lit and starkly staged.
The play explores the behaviour of characters from Milan and Naples when they are thrown together in the natural setting of an island, but here the notion of society is never far from our minds. The exiled Duke of Milan, Prospero, still sports his old, and now dusty, suit; the stage consists of ripped up planks that recall the shipwreck that brought several protagonists to this point, while the scattered decaying statues suggest that this island is experiencing its own afterlife beyond nature.
Such an approach will always sink or swim with its cast, and this production could not be in safer hands. Jonathan Slinger, the star of the RSC’s History Cycle and now Twelfth Night, imbues Prospero with a tantalisingly spiritual voice that can also be forthright, and is never anything but crystal clear. Slinger could make an Act of Parliament sound like poetry, but his expressions are equally moving and the sadness in his eyes in Act Five feels very genuine. Other particularly strong turns come from Kevin McMonagle as Alonso and Jonathan McGuinness as Antonio, while Bruce MacKinnon’s Stephano and Felix Hayes’ Trinculo provide some highly skilful Shakespearean comedy.
The spirits sport the same attire as Prospero, revealing how he has moulded them in his own image, while Ariel’s (Sandy Grierson) descent as a bat and the appearances of Iris, Ceres and Juno generate some truly mesmerising moments. This is an intelligent production of The Tempest that should work for you whether you prefer to think or feel your Shakespeare.
Photo: Jonathan Slinger as Prospero and Emily Taaffe as Miranda.