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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
THE BRIDGE PROJECT: AS YOU LIKE IT AND THE TEMPEST
at the Old Vic

THIS ROUGH MAGIC
By ALLEN ROBERTSON

  Juliet Rylance and Stephen Dillane in The Tempest/ Ph: Joan Marcus

Sometimes fair to middling can be more of a disappointment than unmitigated disaster. Nothing in either of these productions actually approaches the appalling, but ultimately the satisfaction level often falls below par. There’s hardly a moment in either As You Like It or The Tempest that can be pinpointed as out of kilter, much less calamitous, but. …

The Bridge Project, a transatlantic company combining British and American actors, is the ambitious brainchild of Sam Mendes. Back in 1992, he was the first artistic director at the Donmar Warehouse, went on to win an Oscar for American Beauty in 1999, and has been based in New York since 2003.

The initial Bridge Project, featuring Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, was launched at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in January 2009, then played the Old Vic and toured around the world. This second edition once again opened at BAM this past November, going on to Hong Kong, Singapore, France, Spain, Germany and Holland before finally arriving in London. When this year’s company packs up shop they will have been together for 10 months, six of them on the road, and performed for around 185,000 people. A third season is already being planned.

Juliet Rylance’s Rosalind is by far the juiciest performance of the season. Her girl as boy as girl tomfoolery has a capricious energy that percolates with a delicious combination of physical and verbal clowning.

Her Miranda doesn’t fare as well. That’s not just because she is a mightily mature teenager, but because she can’t stop herself from being sophisticated beyond any and all of Miranda’s possibilities. Even her most famous line – “Oh brave new world that has such people in it” – doesn’t catch the necessary gauche naiveties. During the course of the play (performed here without an intermission) Miranda grows into a woman, but she must start out as a girl. Rylance isn’t quite capable of cloaking her own intelligence.

For the record, she is the stepdaughter of Mark Rylance, the inaugural artistic director at the Globe (1995-2005). She is also in real life the wife of Christian Camargo, who plays Orlando in As You Like It and Ariel in The Tempest. He’s touchingly smitten in the first and frostily removed in the second. I think that this can be explained by the fact that neither he nor anyone else on the stage seems capable of establishing any kind of significant rapport with Stephen Dillane’s Prospero – one of the most wayward fine performances in living memory.

Nearly half of the time Dillane’s impressive performances as both the melancholy Jaques and the magus Prospero are close to inaudible. I re-read the texts over the weekend before the London premieres; even so, I had a hard time following the gist of many of Dillane’s utterances.

By the very wildest stretch of the imagination and an over-extension of goodwill you could forgive his Prospero by describing his sotto voce approach as something revolving around secretive magical incantations; but, really, it seems to me that Dillane’s performance has been scuppered by a blatant disregard for the audience. What starts out as irritating eventually feels like an insult.

London is an exceptionally tough venue for The Tempest. Not only are there no fewer than five different productions on view this summer, they all have to compete with the sensational ice-cold Inuit production starring Patrick Stewart that was presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2006 in Stratford and the following year in London. Even so, the supporting performances here are splendid. Never in my recollection has the low comedy come off so well, nor has Caliban (Ron Cephas Jones) found such an assured blend of anger and authority. There are times when he actually trumps Prospero in terms of moral righteousness.

Credit must go to set designer Tom Piper and lighting man Paul Pyant.

 


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