Review: The Tempest at the RSC

In a unique partnership with Intel, the RSC decided to see what the most advanced technology could do when reimagining of Shakespeare’s magical play. Simon Russell Beale returns to the RSC after 20 years to play Prospero in a production directed by Artistic Director Gregory Doran. The Imaginarium Studios created an ethereal shaped Ariel whose form projected and floated all over the stage in fluid and colourful images – something made possible by the use of the same motion caption technology used by Andy Serkis in Peter Jackson’s films. The colours and sounds of the magical island where given an astonishing new dimension. Perhaps the most impressive scene though was the creation of the tree where Arial was imprisoned by Sycorax.

Some friends commented that they thought the use of technology had taken something from the acting but I don’t think so because all the time we could see Mark Quartley on stage, even though, as Billington commented, “it creates the odd sense that we are watching a double Ariel”. Quartley performance was nonetheless impressive. Perhaps it is fair to say that although most audiences are intrigued by Ariel, usually we are much more impressed by Caliban, who is usually the focus of most critical scrutiny in a production. Postcolonial criticism has greatly contributed to this focus on Caliban and while Joe Dixon does a very fine job out of the role, in this particular production Ariel, with the aid of technology, certainly steals the show.

Beale is an impressive Prospero. A very different character from the last production of the paly I watched at the Globe in 2013. Roger Allen was an austere but endearing father figure whereas Beale is above all an angry man. We can easily imagine his voice bellowing above the waves and creating a gales, lighting and thunder even without the aid of Ariel. As my son insightfully commented at the end of the show, Prospero’s anger and rage were so overwhelming that we could see that “the real tempest was inside him”.

Beale dominates the stage to such an extent that we almost forget the pair of lovers, played by Daniel Easton, as Ferdinand, and Jenny Rainsford, as Miranda. Who you don’t forget though is Tony Jayawardena as Stephano. His comic but also morally twisted portray of the character is absolutely brilliant.

All in all this was a great theatrical experience. I don’t think technology has taken away from the play because it was used with intelligence and sensitivity by Doran. The most crucial moments in the story where the human relationships are the focus of scene were devoid of it and relied solely on the actors’ performances and the audience’s imagination, as Shakespeare would have it.  I think the RSC and theatre-goers can all celebrate this creative and aesthetically impressive production – “bring me my bottle!”

More on the production here