The Tempest- A Royal Shakespeare Company Production

As seen in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England
Written by William Shakespeare
Summer 2012

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

The Tempest by William Shakespeare

 When I was 11, I read my very first Shakespearean play for my advanced readers’ class, and it just happened to be Tempest. Better yet, we also performed the play to the rest of the students after we finished. The play was split in half, so we could have two different casts, and I was lucky enough to be cast as the second Prospero-the one to end the play. I can still remember most of the final monologue. So for me, this play will always hold a very special place in my heart. But that being said, it is not one of my favorites.

The play revolves around the magician Prospero. He was once the Duke of Milan, before he was supplanted by his brother, and he and his infant daughter were set out to sea in a little dingy. They landed on an almost deserted island. The years pass and when Miranda is a teenager, Prospero finds out that his brother, Antonio, and many of those who aided Antonio are just off the shore of Prospero’s island. Prospero raises a storm with his magic and the help of an indentured fairy, Ariel. Ariel safely deposits all the people about the islands in little groups, except for the King’s son, Ferdinand, who is on his own. Ferdinand and Miranda meet, and instantly fall in love, but Prospero wants to test Ferdinand and makes Ferdinand do some hard labor. But eventually, Prospero reveals why he tested Ferdinand and gives him permission to marry Miranda. Meanwhile, Ariel is asked to torment two other groups of people. The first group is the King, Antonio, the King‘s brother (Sebastian), and an old faithful servant of Prospero’s. When Ariel puts the servant and the King to sleep, Antonio and Sebastian plot to kill the King, and have Sebastian take his place on the throne, just as Antonio took Prospero’s place. But Ariel intervenes and saves the King and the old servant. But later Ariel comes back and reminds the three of their betrayal of Prospero, and they run mad until Prospero begins to gather everyone to his cave at the end. The other group that Ariel torments is two drunkards who befriend the monster Caliban, a slave to Prospero. They all enjoy their alcohol and Caliban offers to serve them but they need to kill Prospero. Again Ariel steps in and convinces them that they are mad, until again, Prospero gathers them to his cave. In the end, Prospero greets everyone and convinces them he saved them all. The King, having realized his guilt, gives back Prospero his Dukedom. Prospero warns Antonio and Sebastian that they had better behave or he will turn them in for treason. Finally, Miranda and Ferdinand are both given permission to marry; Prospero breaks his magical staff, and frees Ariel.

Overall, I find this play is a little boring as there is not as much humor as in the straight comedies, and fewer sword fights than the tragedies. But the performance of it was enjoyable. There were some really neat things done with the set that helped tell the story, and were a new take on the play.

The set was the same as Twelfth Night and The Comedy of Errors (the three plays were part of a special group of plays based around shipwrecks, preformed on the same stage by the same cast members). There was a pool in one corner, but was sadly unused in this performance. There were a number of hidden trap doors that allowed the spirits and fairies to enter in neat ways. There was also a clear glass box that functioned as part of the ship, Prospero’s cave and a couple other bits.

One of the most spectacular scenes was when Prospero asked Ariel and the spirits to entertain Miranda and Ferdinand upon their engagement. It is a scene that can be easily over looked, but it is the best example of Prospero’s powers and control. In this there were the spirits acting as the puppet masters, while there were other actors dressed as the goddesses that were their puppets. The costumes were gorgeous and really evoked the specific goddesses. The staging was also brilliant, as the main goddess was up on a ledge.

My problem with the play was that I was not really impressed with the actors playing Miranda or Ariel. Miranda is not a very interesting character to begin with, but the actress tried to play her as even younger than she should be. It was a very affected, young girl performance, which was awkward when paired with her eventual betrothal to Ferdinand. But the biggest disappointment was Ariel. It was the same actor that I saw as Feste in Twelfth Night and a lot of the same issues I had with him then, I had in this play. He performs with a very flat face, and no real conceivable change of expressions. This was just really hard for me, as I always pictured Ariel as a rather active and emotional fairy. But I could never tell what emotional Ariel was supposed to be feeling at any point in the play. Also his costume was a bit underwhelming. Half the time Ariel wore a suit and looked like a twin of Prospero’s (hair and figure as well as the suit). Then other times, when he was more a spirit, he wore a strange old fashioned clown outfit, but with the odd choice of the outfit being mostly see-through. Obviously, I was not impressed by Ariel in this version.

I did really like the actor who played Prospero. I thought he brought the many emotions that Prospero experiences in that one day. He is happy and sad at his daughter falling in love, he wants revenge, but learns to feel pity. I was also really impressed by the casting of a woman as Sebastian, and that they kept the name as Sebastian.

Overall, I enjoyed the performance, even though it is not one of my favorite plays. It would have been better with some slightly different casting, but a solid performance.

Final Verdict: If this is your cup of tea, go and enjoy a decent performance!

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