Theatre Review: The Tempest by William Shakespeare, on Tour in the UK, Autumn 2002

by Kate Hoolu

Some interesting personal coincidences with this one. I went to see it on the birthday of Leamington’s other famous son, Aleister Crowley, and only then I realised it was a year to the day since I was working backstage on ‘Return To The Forbidden Planet’, a musical based on a an old Sci-Fi film, which itself is nothing more than ‘The Tempest In Space’.

So what relevance to the modern world has a play that is nearly 400 years old? Well, it’s a complex tale of love, revenge, reconciliation, alternate realities, magic, international politics, royalty, discrimination, social exclusion, violence, inter-family strife, slapstick comedy and the uses (abuses) of power. Can you fit any or all of those into the recent world news? Yep, thought so…. Although it’s old, it’s still highly relevant to the way we conduct our lives today, and if, as reputed, this was Shakespeare’s last play, he went out on a high note indeed.

One handicap with a play that’s been performed so many times is how to keep it fresh, and original. This version is pretty much a success on that score, the costumes are nominally Edwardian militaria, there is virtually no scenery in the conventional sense, and within a minimalist play there is a great deal of attention paid to superbly-engineered sound. When visual effects are used (sparingly) they are stunning; a functioning case of that old cliché: ‘less is more’ and the spirit Ariel’s flight in particular is tremendously done.

The cast seem to be genuinely enjoying what they are doing, perhaps a reflection of the age and experience mix- for some it’s their first time on stage, or they are still early in their careers, for others it’s ‘just another play’ in terms of their CV’s, but it means far more than that to them, judging by their performances. Prospero is played by the biggest ‘name’ in the cast, Richard Briers, who will be best known perhaps for some fairly disposable comedy TV sitcoms, such as ‘the Good Life’, and for being in demand as a voice-over artiste, including for children’s cartoons. However, without going into a long ‘high culture-low culture’ debate here, it is this kind of role for which he will have been trained, and obviously relishes. Although Briers is the ‘star name’, attracting interest to the production, and has splendid stage presence as the great magician, Madeleine Worrall as Miranda is truly lovely but it is perhaps Ben Silverstone as Ariel who steals the show- every line is delivered with a wide-eyed effort, and he assumes the role of an unearthly spirit to great effect.

If you like Shakespeare this is a fresh and clever production that will leave you well satisfied. Or if you need a break from the stifling over-indulgence of Hollywood film, go see this. No car chases, no advertising product placement, no sexist meat marketry; just the craft of acting. Superb.


The Play is on tour in the UK this autumn (October-November 2002) and will be in Edinburgh, Malvern, Bath, Guildford, Nottingham and Norwich. More information via their Press Office on 0207 263 9867

In common with various other reviews on this site, no inducements of freebies were offered for a favourable review- I paid for my own ticket, just like a real person : )