The Tempest

Thu, 12th Jan 17
Simon Russell Beale in the RSC Tempest seen at cinemas.

RSC Tempest ReviewAnother RSC Live Broadcast seen at the Weston-super-Mare Odeon.

Gregory Doran's vision for this Tempest was a bold one; to bring cutting-edge effects and techniques to a stage show in the same way as Shakespeare himself brought the latest and best ideas to the original. In our case, we are seeing complex projection and live action motion-capture delivered as integral parts of the show, a brave move for a long run! These technical tricks do not, however, detract from the production and have not swamped the central design - what they have done is allowed Ariel, in particular, to become an actual spirit on occasions - we see Mark Quartley on stage but, when appropriate, his movement is captured, fed live to a spirit avatar and projected onto massive gauzes. The use of projection in the storm is also enormously clever (though the men don't drown as shown!) though it was perhaps less effective when used on Iris, Juno and Ceres who were otherwise delightful. The central relationship of Simon Russell Beale's Prospero and Jenny Rainsford's Miranda is completely believable with Prospero's humanity, rather than his magic, being the core of the characterisation. Joe Dixon's Caliban was beautifully portrayed - helped by a marvelous costume - and his final words to Prospero, spoken as man not monster, truly moving. Trinculo (Simon Trinder) and Stephano (Tony Jayawardena) worked well together with Stephano being a particularly clever portrayal full of quite subtle humour. As for the Kings and Nobles, for me they are less well drawn in the text so require particular attention - the cast did well though at times I felt their pace a bit rushed. Overall, a most intriguing and enjoyable production with some genuine highlights and superbly used technical content.

On the actual filming I am less convinced. I enjoy the interviews and additional information given and the sneak peeks into the backstage but the camera work (well, live editing at least) frustrates me enormously. The design, production and direction, as well as the acting, for a stage show is not that which would be used for film or TV so it is wholly inappropriate to film it the same way. The continuous panning, zooming and cropping of the scene make a mockery of the hard work that goes into creating a stage show. For a start, the audience lose context, something the designer and director have worked hard to create physically on stage (as they have no post-processing, CGI or location shots) - if the whole stage is lit then that is the context we are supposed to see the action in, it is not random, it is carefully choreographed. If someone is at the back of the stage it is for a reason, to give a perspective, to establish a power relationship or to imply a distance - to then zoom in on them is ridiculous. To show us one person speaking when there are many actors on stage means we do not get the reactions of the listeners (which actors have worked on creating) or any of the off-line performances - if the film makers believe these things are not important then they have not understood the theatre. Basically, theatre is not meant to be seen in close-up, isolated, detail but as a whole. Balancing this with a filmed performance is, understandably, tricky but that is what should be being tried, NOT, most definitely NOT, trying to create a film experience from a stage performance - that is grossly unfair to actors, designers, directors and audiences alike!

Finally ... I've said it before and I'll say it again ... I can't wait for the new local cinema to open as it will have state-of-the-art soundproofing. To watch an intimate scene on stage to the muffled but clearly audible soundtrack of the latest Star Wars movie detracts somewhat from the whole experience! Having said that, there was precious little travelling, free parking, very comfortable seats, an uninterrupted view and a low ticket price - so it's not all bad! This way, at least, a lot of people are getting to see theatre that for one reason or another they would never normally be able to experience.

p.s. there has been some discussion recently on the need for a Playbill-equivalent for UK theatre - basically free information on the cast and production. The idea is not to replace the programme but to provide an alternate so that all theatregoers can at least know the cast and crew and get some basic background details. UK theatregoers often get a shock during their first trip to Broadway that the Playbill for their show is handed out to them free! Curiously, if you go to a live broadcast in the UK the same thing happens. A free one-side sheet is provided giving basic synopsis, cast and creative team details and promoting future broadcasts - leaving the audience better informed than those actually attending the theatre (at a higher price) unless they have forekd out for a programme!

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