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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
THE TEMPEST
at Theatre Royal, Haymarket

LESS-THAN-ENCHANTED ISLE
By SAM MARLOWE

  Nicholas Lyndhurst and Clive Wood/ Ph: Catherine Ashmore

The high point of Trevor Nunn's season at the Haymarket this year has undoubtedly been his production of Terence Rattigan's Flare Path, a luminous, compassionate and intensely moving revival and a fitting tribute to the playwright's centenary celebrations. So the cack-handed, half-baked and above all punishingly boring mess that is Nunn's staging of Shakespeare's late romance comes as both a shock and a deep disappointment. It is untidy, curiously dated in design and singularly lacking in magic. And even a lead performance from Ralph Fiennes – the production's big box-office draw – doesn't redeem it.

Stephen Brimson Lewis' design – which borrows heavily from his set for Waiting for Godot at the same address in 2009 – gives the action an overtly theatrical setting, the draped boxes incorporated into the action, the walls exposed. The enchanted isle is a place of dramatic contrivance, and Prospero an artist at the waning of his career and his life. Fiennes emerges from the shadows, his lips moving in a silent incantation, clad in a weather-beaten “magic garment” adorned with shells and seaweedy fronds. As the storm grows fiercer, mariners tumble from the flies suspended on ropes.

It's an effective enough opening, and beautifully lit by Paul Pyant, particularly when the tempestuous sea is replaced by an image of thick, fairytale forests. Fiennes has a brooding presence throughout, as well as occasional flashes of dark wit. The prominence, too, of an hour-glass, implacably measuring out the trickling away of Propsero's powers, has visual impact – though it also has the unfortunate side effect of making us feel every slow-passing second of the production's three-hour duration.

There's little besides that doesn't seem lazily, and sometimes ludicrously, misconceived. Tom Byam Shaw's Ariel is too irritatingly effete to make us care whether he ever wins his freedom; and his posse of lookalike fairies in bodystockings and punky wigs is frankly ridiculous. Shaun Davey's ghastly score doesn't help; the fairies are saddled with hard-on-the-ear counter-tenor warbling, and, later, Giles Terera's dull Caliban sings what almost amounts to a power ballad. Worst of all is the wedding mask, in which both music and design scale frenzied heights of tastelessness, with lurid illuminated rainbows and an accompaniment dominated by tinny synthesisers lending a strangely 1980s flavour to the spectacle.

Elisabeth Hopper's Miranda is sweet enough, but Michael Benz's Ferdinand, with a ratty little ponytail, is terribly priggish – hardly love's young dream, even if he is the first man Miranda has seen apart from Caliban and her father – and the shipwrecked lords make barely any impression. Nicholas Lyndhurst's moon-faced, West Country Trinculo and Clive Wood's boorishly boozy Stephano supply some light relief – though real laughs are in short supply. So, too, is emotional power. Rarely has a trip unto these yellow sands seemed quite such a slog.     

 


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