Review: The Tempest, RSC at the Roundhouse

“Do not torment me, prithee”

Last up in the RSC’s Shipwreck Trilogy, in the What country friends is this? season was The Tempest. In some ways I wish I’d seen this closer to The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night (which I saw on consecutive days in June) as the thrill of watching an ensemble across multiple plays is magnified much more that way. As it was, my enthusiasm for The Tempest – never one of my favourite Shakespeares and now totally ruined by the fact that I’ve now seen what will probably the best version ever –  had waned slightly as I returned to the Roundhouse.

The reality was neither as bad as I had feared nor as good as I might have hoped. David Farr’s production (I wish they’d gotten in a third director to really mix things up) has its moments of  inspiration and interest, but these are scattered throughout rather than invigorating the whole show and so my abiding feeling was of unevenness. For the great visual impact of Prospero having the islanders dress in identikit suits, little is done to enliven the immense amount of speechifying that the character does, Jonathan Slinger’s performance having a strangely unnerving impact more than anything.

What I have liked across these plays is the emergence of performers of note. Kirsty Bushell, an actress I already liked, has really risen to the challenge of leading roles and even in a supporting part here – a gender-switched Sebastian – she does interesting work. And Bruce Mackinnon and Felix Hayes have really nailed genuinely comic business, their affinity for working together apparent across all three shows and I look forward to catching them in future productions, hopefully spreading their wings beyond the Bard. 

So probably my least favourite part of the trilogy all in all. But the more I see it, the more I think that this is a play that needs substantial and sustained innovation to really make it fly, and it does not receive that here.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £4
Runs until 5th July, then returns to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon from 12th July – 7th October

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