Since the inception of Pepper’s Ghost, theatre-makers have strived to utilise the latest innovations in technology to draw in audiences. The use of technology often comes with high expectations, however Gregory Doran’s re-imagining of The Tempest far exceeds any and all expectations, bringing Shakespeare’s most magical play to life.
After a 20-year absence Simon Russell Beale returns to the Royal Shakespeare Company in the role of Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, who alongside his daughter Miranda (Jenny Rainsford), was left to die on a solitary island 12 years ago by his brother Antonio (Oscar Pearce). Beale’s performance is tender and powerful as he plays both a loving father and grand magus who wishes to enact revenge on those why betrayed him.
The RSC merge art and technology to create Prospero’s willing servant Ariel. A digital avatar allows Ariel (Mark Quartley) to shift from fiery-being to winged harpy with ease. Whilst Ariel is certainly impressive it is the courtly Masque which leaves jaws wide open as colourful projections transform the stage into a godly-sight of song and dance. The RSC collaborated with Intel and Imaginarium Studios for over two years to create these scenes and whilst they are magnificent in their own right, they don’t remove you from the stellar performance by the cast.
Drunken butler Stephano (Tony Jayawardena), jester Trinculo (Simon Trinder) and Prospero’s slave Caliban (Joe Dixon) bring a slice of hilarity to the show. Jenny Rainsford’s Miranda is naive of the world and a tomboy, something which you’d expect of someone whose only company for 12 years has been her father. Mark Quartley’s real-life Ariel is fleet of foot and nymph-like, bounding across the stage as he enacts Prospero’s plans. It is Beale who steals the show though. His anger bubbles throughout the performance, surfacing for brief moments before being pushed aside once again.
Doran’s The Tempest is a magnificent feat of theatre which creates a true sense of magic and wonder. The set, technology and cast fit together perfectly, with neither overshadowing the other. It is without a doubt the best piece of theatre I have seen in 2016 if not longer and the perfect way to conclude the special anniversary year.
The Tempest plays at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre until 21 January. For more information and to book tickets visit www.rsc.org.uk.