The Tempest is one third of a loose “shipwreck trilogy” by the RSC at Camden’s Roundhouse – and it is the pick of the bunch.
I’ve always seen Prospero as cold and aloof – not a fundamentally bad bloke but definitely not someone you’d want to go for a pint with. I tend to imagine him with a pointy hat, too, but that might say more about me than the play. Jonathan Slinger’s Prospero is ragged, jaded and in posession of a tinderbox temper. You get the distinct impression that being deserted on a magical island for 12 years has driven him a bit bonkers. I suppose it would.
Of course, the ambiguous spirit Ariel – wonderfully played by Glaswegian Sandy Grierson – is on hand to help, performing his airy tricks with an unmistakable air of menace, as well as some impressive feats of acrobatics, vanishing through holes in the stage only to reappear elsewhere at impossible speed.
Jon Bausor’s set is as good as you would expect from the world-renowned designer, with some very clever lighting transforming a clear perspex box from a stricken ship to Prospero’s island cell.
The three plays – the others being The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night – are running concurrently and it’s fascinating to see how the actors adapt to their different roles. While one or two play essentially the same character reading different lines, the best of them are almost unrecognisable from play to play.
Of the three, The Tempest takes the fewest liberties (The Comedy of Errors, for instance, became a very modern tale exploring issues of immigration). You get the impression this is the one they really, really wanted to get right. They did.
First published in City A.M.