Review: The Tempest, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“Make yourself ready in your cabin for the mischance of the hours”

Very occasionally I see a play which saps the life of my desire to write about all the shows that I see. Good ones are great, bad ones are fine as they often provoke much thought and opinion, but some are just so crushingly dull that they simply inspire nothing. Trevor Nunn’s production of The Tempest at the Theatre Royal Haymarket was such a play and what is worse, I already knew that that would be my response to it due to the feedback from people who had already gone. Fortunately, I was gifted the ticket for services rendered so there was no financial cost but things can tax you severely in other ways.

Mainly it is due to the extreme lack of pace, the play is stretched out laboriously over more than three hours for no discernable reason than to fill time, there’s no reason contained within the interpretation that justifies this lack of speed and it becomes painfully obvious that we’re in for the long haul from the outset with precious few sparks of life animating events onstage. As Prospero, Ralph Fiennes was actually better than I was anticipating, the sole beneficiary of my lowered expectations, with a vocal performance that was colourful and commanding.

Elsewhere it felt to me that there were fatal misfires from top to bottom. Elisabeth Hopper and Michael Benz made for an incredibly insipid Miranda and Ferdinand; Giles Terera sadly makes no impact on the production even as a black Caliban; the multiple Ariels led by Tom Byam Shaw take an innovation used to extraordinary effect by Cheek by Jowl and make it seem exceptionally old-fashioned with fairy wings, make-up and far too much simpering; the nobles left me cold with their dull scenes and Nicholas Lyndhurst and Clive Wood as the comic relief provided no such respite.

There’s some drama added by some of the wire work, but it is generally over-used; the songs are poorly done; Stephen Brimson Lewis’ set feels uninspired, indeed that’s how I felt about the whole thing. In a year that marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s play, we in London have been blessed with the extraordinary Russian interpretation which utterly revitalised the play for me and with the recent Barbican/Jericho House production which put its own Middle-Eastern spin on events and so it was hard not to feel more than a little disillusioned at how staidly traditional Nunn’s approach is here.

Despite this, it has been a most popular event, advance sales were huge and there was a nearly full house this evening but I wanted to tell all the golden oldies and groups of tourists that there is so much more that this play, and theatre in general, has to offer that would be more thrilling and exciting to watch. But one gets the sense that it is Ralph Fiennes is the biggest draw here and in that respect, I don’t think many would be too disappointed as he does make the most of his time in the spotlight. Myself though, I am slowly learning the lesson that it helps no-one if I go to things that I know I won’t like – it may seem an obvious point but in the midst of an addiction, theatregoing I feel I should stress, clear logical thinking is at a premium – the thought of being punished like this again should serve me well though. 

Running time: your entire life – otherwise known as 3 hours 5 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £4
Booking until 29th October but you’d be a fool 😉

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