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Play by Shakespeare. Directed by Adrian Noble.
Prospero controls the island; its vistors and its inhabitants.
By mixing reality and illusion he creates a place where nothing is what it seems.
But what is the meaning of his magical powers if he can't change people?
Mystical and mysterious yet romantic and comic, The Tempest is Shakespeare's most fascinating play and the last play he wrote on his own.
Cast includes David Calder (Prospero), Robert Glenister (Caliban), Scott Handy (Ariel), David Henry (Antonio), Penny Layden (Miranda) and Adrian Schiller (Sebastian).
This production was seen at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon Previewed 19 February, Opened 25 February 1998, Closed 4 September 1998
BARBICAN Theatre previewed 17 December 1998, opened 5 January 1999, closed 4 March 1999
Extracts from reviews from London opening:
"The lady in front of me thought there was something wrong with the big black speakers beside the Barbican stage, which were creaking and groaning in electronic agony as she took her seat. But, no, it was Adrian Noble's way of preparing us all for a good powerful storm. First, a tiny boat was seen floundering in vast violet drapes. Then the action moved to the deck of a boat which seethed, palpitated, creaked, groaned and split to some splendidly ferocious thunder and lightning. Clearly we were in for a bold, imaginative staging of the finest of Shakespeare's late romances. Bold and visually arresting Noble's Tempest proved at Stratford a year ago, and bold and arresting it still is. But as often happens with RSC transfers, changes have occurred - some are more welcome than others. What were relatively dramatic, simple effects have been elaborated, which in the case of the low comedians is fine, since they are now as funny as any I have recently seen. But I am less sure about David Calder, whose Prospero was the fascination and glory of Noble's revival last year. He is tracking a more intricate path through the play, and has lost as much as he gains. He is still an imposing yet sensitive magus. He still surprises you with the physical delicacy with which, bulky though he is, he pads about the gravelly circle that is his island kingdom. He is still vocally rich and versatile, though now maybe to excess, since you are sometimes more aware of the complex music rising from his throat than of what he is actually saying. He has also answered those who felt that otherworldliness was missing from his performance. The famous speech about the dissolution of those cloud-capped towers and solemn temples is as weirdly, dreamily prophetic as it should be. But at Stratford he made you feel that Prospero's bitterness at old wrongs was stronger, more obsessive. You felt a dangerously moody, volatile man was fingering wounds that were still open, still raw. Until Scott Handy's unearthly Ariel declared that he would pity Prospero's foes "were I human", you actually felt that he might not forgive bad Antonio and worse Sebastian. Calder has not ditched this unusual and rewarding reading, but he has made it less emphatic and obvious. He uses his magic staff to make his victims writhe with cramps, but there is now no serious chance he will turn them into toads or beetles. The result is, I suppose, a subtler performance; but the cost is some loss of dramatic tension as well as less impact when Prospero does bring himself to kiss his odious, usurping brother. Nevertheless, Calder still commands the stage, still leaves you wondering why he is not the household name that many a less feeling, intelligent and technically resourceful actor has become. The supporting performers remain a bit uneven - a symptom of the difficulty the RSC is finding in attracting the consistently excellent performers it once did? - but in one area are actually better than before. The scene in which Ariel plays havoc with the play's lowlife is far more drunken and, with Adrian Schiller's Buster-Keaton-like Trinculo unable to sit down, the wailing blend of red-eyed lynx and mud-caked cur that is Robert Glenister's Caliban unable to get up, and Barry Stanton's huge, pompous Stephano repeatedly mistaking sprinklings of booze for a divinely ordained rainstorm, it is particularly hilarious - but then all the clowning combines inventiveness and guile." Benedict Nightingale, The Times
"...although everyone agrees there is much wrong with the RSC - too many perverse productions, a conveyor-belt approach to the most popular Shakespeare plays, duff verse-speaking among the younger actors, a perceived lack of both leadership and star-power - the company does often deliver better work than it is given credit for. What's more, through touring and residencies, Noble has effectively achieved his aim of making the company's work accessible to almost all of Britain, in the face of unforgivably smug metropolitan bitchiness. The real trouble with the RSC is that it is so big, diffuse and unwieldly that it lacks a coherent identity. You are never sure why it is doing what, where and when. Noble would also do the company a real favour if he could attract more distinguished guest directors, and pull off the kind of casting coups that have created such a buzz at the Almeida. There's something stubbornly unsexy about the RSC. Yet unlike the National Theatre, with its dangerously thin and cautious repertoire, the RSC is still tackling a genuinely ambitious range of work. And in the past few months it has started scoring some substantial box-office hits, which should do wonders for battered morale. It is also good to be reminded of the sheer quality of which the RSC is still sometimes capable. I was rather sniffy about Noble's production of The Tempest when it opened in Stratford last March, commending its clarity while feeling it lacked an apprehension of the numinous. Either I got it wrong or the production has deepened, for this now strikes me as a hauntingly beautiful and deeply felt production. Anthony Ward's design, featuring a circle of shingle and acres of billowing blue silk, is both simple and dreamlike, while Stephen Warbeck's score is marvellously evocative, full of "sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not". As so often with the RSC, some of the supporting cast are weak, and the "men of sin" in particular fail to emerge sufficiently strongly. But there are smashing performances where it really matters. Adrian Schiller and Barry Stanton offer a blissfully funny double-act as Trinculo and Stephano; Penny Layden is a true and touching Miranda; Scott Handy a beautifully voiced and ethereal Ariel, while Robert Glenister is at once groteqsque and strangely endearing as Caliban. The production's greatest triumph, though, lies in David Calder's magnificent Prospero. His pained humanity was strongly in evidence last spring. What seems new to me now is the splendid musicality of his vocal delivery and the sudden, radiant glimpses of spiritual insight. His hard-won progress to forgiveness is caught with illuminating detail and grace, and we are made keenly aware of how the often cruel Prospero learns from both his daughter and from Ariel. When he speaks of "a heaviness that's gone", Calder shows a man becoming suddenly and miraculously aware of his own freedom, and it is a thrillingly transcendent moment. In this marvellous performance Calder seems the heir of Ralph Richardson: he is at once as ordinary as a sack of potatoes yet somehow capable of conveying a sense of other-worldly wonder." Charles Spencer, The Daily Telegraph
"A rare glow of enchantment infuses Adrian Noble's production of The Tempest. But while the eyes are ravished by the varieties of magic and illusion possessing Prospero's island, minds may be less engaged. The fault lies not in Noble, but with David Calder's Prospero, which was admired at Stratford-on-Avon in 1998 for its unremitting sense of vengeful grievance. I always felt Calder's malign frostiness so pervasive that it ruined Prospero's hard-won sense of forgiveness and those wistful adieux to his magic powers. Calder's performance struck me last night with all the force of a dripping tap. Striding around in what looks like a blue-green dressing-gown, the white-haired actor adopts a weird, affected throttled tone of voice and clings to it like a drowning man to a lifebuoy. His gabbling Prospero is seized and held by monotonous notes of petulance rather than rage or grief. As if in a world of his own, which in a way he is, Calder's Prospero fixes his gaze upon the audience, hardly deigning to cast his eyes upon any actor with whom he deals. Scott Handy's eerily impressive Ariel, a blanched muscle-boy in loincloth, prone to melancholia, deft magic effects and soulful singing, can barely engage Prospero's eye. Yet the island-world of illusions, created by Noble and his most ingenious designer, Anthony Ward, are purposefully beguiling. From a fearfully realistic shipwreck, the scene switches to a circle of shingle-like stones where an open fire burns. Robert Glenister's mudcaked, croaking Caliban prises himself out of a surreally large shell to foment revolt, while magic sends Ariel floating through the skies on huge, scarlet wings to subdue Prospero's enemies. In Noble's bright envisaging, the real world comes to seem no more substantial than the Island magic, where the illusory and real are intertwined." London Evening Standard
Extracts from the reviews at Stratford:
"At the end of Adrian Noble's new Royal Shakespeare Company production of The Tempest, David Calder, as Prospero, speaks directly to the audience ("Now my charms are all o'erthrown") with a marvellous freshness and simplicity. Listening, we are in the palm of his hand. Noble's entire production is intelligent, picturesque, sensitive; it nowhere belittles the play's dimensions. To my mind, however, most of it lacks freshness - the freshness I usually think of as a hallmark of even Noble's lesser Shakespeare productions. The inner pulse of the play seems dull. To say this seems mean, since at every point this production is a handsome cut above the poorer Tempest productions I have seen, some of them in recent years....Penny Layden, as Miranda, is the most spontaneous and urgent speaker in the cast. But there is something in the calculations and remembrances and philosophisings of Prospero that drains the spontaneity out of most actors; and this is certainly true of Calder. He has sterling authority of stance and face, an exceptionally handsome voice, and dignity galore. But it is not true that, as Miranda says, his tale "would cure deafness". He seems to have been rehearsing it. Until the play's end, his thoughts seem to have been formed long before his words....As usual with Noble's Shakespeare productions, the designer is Anthony Ward; as usual, the most memorable aspect of the production is its visual side. The cloud-decked cyclorama; the huge horned shell out of which Prospero prises black Caliban like a hermit crab; the magic sky-blue cloak worn by Prospero whose train rises up into the skies; the vast red wings on which Ariel descends upon Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio like an avenging angel . . . these are wonderful, as is the breathtaking speed with which individual items of scenery are spirited onstage and off....There is still too much amplification; too much reliance on non-musical sound effects; too much music welling up underneath (or over) the words....Scott Handy and Robert Glenister play Ariel and Caliban as opposites: white and black, light and heavy, ellifluous and stertorous. There is too much artfulness involved (Handy is a highly accomplished and peculiarly unimpressive performer), and Caliban's great speeches are insufficiently intelligible. But no performance is poor; and I soon became very fond of Adrian Schiller's hangdog Trinculo. Still, this is a Tempest that keeps us at a distance. Much about it is good, nothing about is bad, and yet it does not make the play matter to us." Alastair Macaulay, The Financial Times
"Adrian Noble's production of this most magical of all Shakespeare's plays keeps ravishing you with its elemental strangeness. The eye is persistently importuned by weird sightings on Prospero's fantastical island where the old conjuror stages his rites of revenge and forgiveness. But the mind - or this one anyway - is less persuaded by what Noble's leading actor makes of this final romance. David Calder's lightly bearded Prospero in grass-green robe -is indelibly stamped with dyspeptic frostiness. He has caught such indigestion of the soul that his protestations of forgiveness and reconciliation come listlessly across, as if he prefers the medicine of revenge...the island-world created by Noble and his imaginative designer Anthony Ward works vivid wonders. From a fearful shipwreck on, it conveys Shakespeare's own dream-like sense of a place subjected the whims of magical tansformation. This world, a circle of shingle-like stones, with a cyclorama of billowing blue clouds to the front and rear, is possessed by a dazzle bf tableaux, masques and Stephen Warbeck's eerie flute and music. Scott Handy's remarkable, inventive Ariel - face and body blanched so he resembles a resuscitated ghost, sings a beautiful counter-tenor and bears down on Prospero's enemies not with nimbleness but muscular foreboding. The sight of him with huge red wings, like some dangerous angel breathing fire and brimstone upon Prospero's enemies is thrillingly surreal. The same mood is evoked by Robert Glenister's Caliban, when prized from a huge shell like a snail fit to be swallowed whole. Glenister is too lurid and a less than shocking example of raw nature. The rebellion he leads with Barry Stanton's drunken butler and Adrian Schiller's delightfully mournful clown lacks much comic thrust. But this trio heightens the impression of an island beset by illusions. Noble's acting company has it's weaknesses - a wildly overpitched Firdinand and a plodding troop of villains for example. Yet although this is no revolutionary production, it captivatingly shows a world where the lines between the illusory and the real are blurred." Nicholas de Jongh, London Evening Standard
"The vast blue curtains at the back palpitate, the violet drapes on the ground seethe, and thunder and lightning go about their business with remarkable ferocity - Adrian Noble's staging of The Tempest begins as, on the whole, it goes on. It is finely imagined, simply staged, and provokes at least as much wonder as the Cymbeline which the same director recently brought to the Barbican. It also offers a notable Prospero. David Calder is not the household name he should be, nor has he the ascetic, guru-like figure of a John Wood, Derek Jacobi or John Gielgud. But he surprises you with the physical delicacy with which he pads about the gravelly circle that is his island kingdom, and he persistently impresses you with his emotional intelligence and vocal versatility. More than any Prospero I have recently seen, he makes you realise what he means when he says he has a "beating mind". More than any, he leaves you feeling that his decision to forgive his evil brother and the treacherous King of Naples is a close-run thing....Calder is partly an introspective magus, partly a commanding prophet, but also a passionate, volatile man capable of swivelling from mood to mood in an instant....Unsurprisingly, not all the performances match the one at the play's centre. But the comic scenes are funnier than usual, thanks to some spectacularly drunken knockabout involving Barry Stanton's bulky Stephano, Adrian Schiller's wispy Trinculo, and an Ariel able to transform himself into a wall or a hoist while remaining invisible. Moreover, there is a strong, strange Caliban from Robert Glenister, an actor whom a less original director would probably have cast as bad Alonso or worse Antonio, not as a surly caveman with murder on his mind..." Benedict Nightingale, The Times