Saturday, January 14, 2017

Avid readers of this blog will know that William Shakespeare's The Tempest occupies the portion of my heart that can be relied upon to warm my hands on a chilly day. 

I've been in it. So got to say the wondrous line 

O brave new world that has such people in't. 

And in 2009, I directed it.

So I'm pretty familiar with the words. And have a pretty specific idea about how it should and shouldn't be done. (Rash.)
I hadn't seen it since again until Wednesday's night's live relay from the RSC in Stratford.  I do find these live relays troubling. Your experience is totally shaped by the camera angles and they understandably tend zoom in on the main men (and women). So Simon Russell Beale as Mr Prospero got a lot of camera time on Wednesday, for example. Which is fine and well but there was often a pack of stuff going on in the background which we therefore couldn't see. But if you sell your soul to the masses, you must make these decisions and if they really were trending on twitter by the interval, it must have paid off commercially.

The show was beautifully spoken. Liz would be proud of me for saying this as I normally care much less about the words than the manner of delivery. (I don't think the RSC would ever take me on.) They all enunciated beautifully. They were all miked, I think, which helps. But they did enjoy and eloquently share the text. And the words are wonderful. From this point of view, my experience was a little like the one I get from attending a Catholic mass (she says irreverantly). Born and raised a Catholic, I could mostly murmur the mass in my sleep and hearing it again is like slipping into a slanket. And so it was with this.

I LOVED Ariel. Tech aside, he did a marvellous job of being un-human. His haughty hair (ace costume / make-up), his blank blank face, his weird little duck like slidey walk (walk like a duck man like a duck I'll be damned) and his marvellous detachment. You got (I got, anyway) all of his yearning to be away but yearning to be a part of something other that he didn't really understand. 

They did something very clever with Intel and Imaginarium to make a model of Ariel that responded to motion sensors on the actual Ariel so the model, projected large onto this or that screen, replicated actual Ariel's movement. Prospero mostly addressed the projected Ariel. I was jealous of that.

Antonio and Sebastian were fun. Suitably scheming. Beautifully costumed. Composed. Charismatic. Machiavellian.

Oh and I loved Gonzalo (Joseph Mydell). He was as ramblingly in love with the sound of his own voice as he should be. I felt all sorts of nostalgia for Gillian Massie who I can still picture gazing beatifically to the skies and pontificating pointlessly.

The list of what I didn't like is longer.

Miranda delivered many many of her lines with a tremble. I don't know how to describe it accurately. It was like her voice wobbled - like she was about to burst into tears except she wasn't. Not all the time anyway. I can only think either she thinks it's a very effective way to deliver Shakespeare and no-one told her otherwise or someone told her to do it like that. But no-one else delivered their lines so strangely so I'm not sure that it can be the latter. So why didn't anyone tell her to stop? That aside, I didn't much like her. She wept too much. She was too credulous. She even didn't seem to mind too much that Caliban had tried to rape her. I struggled to believe in this portrayal of her. Of course not all Miranda's will do a sassy little dance to Beyonce's All The Single Ladies. But wouldn't it be a better play if they did?

I really struggled with Trinculo too. Partly because, Miranda style, I lost my heart to Cari Silver now Sivills waddling like a duck. But this Trinculo was a slightly dishevelled opinionated arrogant clown who was greatly in love with his own physicality and inserted all sorts of strange little leg movements into his performance that looked for all the world as if he was showing off. He was adept and funny and accomplished but I barely liked him.

Stephano, the drunken butler, I liked more. Tony Jayawardena did a marvellous job of making him louche and loud and luscious (I mean, like a lush - does that work?) and also, very likeable. I wanted him to snatch all the trinkets and run away and be happy and free. I didn't want Trinculo to get any trinkets. 

And then then there was Caliban. Now Caliban, whose costume was mostly knotted tights, suffered from being seen in close up on the cinema screen. From a distance, he would have looked much more like the dishevelled beast that Shakespeare perhaps intended. 

You see, even this photo looks better. But you zoom and he's got like a sausage of tights wrapped in string snaking down his back. Anyway, obviously the man can't be damned for his costume. Joe Dixon's performance was pretty good, I guess. Alternately downtrodden and then full of wide-eyed hope when the pranksters promise him the moon. 

And Prospero. Well, Simon Russell Beale talked a good game in the pre-movie filler film about how Prospero was a broken man, he's done his best by his daughter but he'd been betrayed by his bro and he hadn't really recovered. But this didn't really seem to translate into his performance which was either ponderous or angrily declamatory. For a master of his craft, I missed some light and shade. 

Then I didn't much like the costumes. They seemed predictable. The set was nice enough. Oh to have money. And the projections were wonderful. They kept all the Shakespeare 'songs' and rendered them as mostly dreary dirges aside from the dreadful recitations from the Brunehilde-style Juno and Ceres at the so-called festivities for the newly promised to each other couple.

It was as if the motion-sensor tech stuff excused them from the need to approach any of the rest of the production with any imagination. Or maybe they have to serve up a very traditional rendition for all the loyal RSC / Shakespeare devotees. I expected more from director Gregory Doran. But maybe he was enslaved to his paymasters. 

But the thing I really missed was that intangible thing you get from a show that works. I'm so very biased but when we did The Tempest (and remember my judgement is severely impaired), the cast had a ball. We were on for a fortnight. We were on a boat. We loved each other and our show and the music and the Fringe and the venue with a lively passion. So the fact that the play is a little weird and disjointed and the characters barely interact with each other mattered less because (I think) irrespective of what the audience took from it, it was fun. Where this RSC production was just a disparate collection of characters staggering around an island and I didn't care much what happened to them. Interestingly, with the exception of Ariel. My heart tugged a little when he was freed but continued to stare, a little bit blankly, at Prospero, like he didn't quite know what to do next. 

Then again, Michael Billington liked it. So maybe I'm just way too subjective.


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