Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Tempest: a review

The Tempest is playing in Stratford-upon-Avon. Opening night was last night. We managed to get tickets. Here's my review.

By far, the best actor in the cast is Julian Bleach (Ariel). His performance was stunning and gripping, but what really set him apart from the rest of the cast was his ability to play to the audience rather than play to the other actors.

When he first arrived on set, he was crammed into a 50-gallon drum (aka the fire). In this tiny space, Bleach managed to move his face and shoulders in such a way that everyone was touched by his presence. Bleach continued connecting with the audience, although he could improve a bit in the middle of the performance. Bleach managed to overcome bad blocking (which is a problem throughout the play) by moving his body around, projecting his voice, and just plain great Shakespearean acting.

Patrick Stewart (Prospero) relies on his fantastic voice to connect with audiences, but his performance (and every other actors' performanc) could be enhanced through better blocking. Almost every monologue was done stuck in one position. And the actors, who were well rehearsed and had great emotion in their voices and body movement, acted toward each other, as if the audience wasn't there. I don't know is this was decided by the director, but it made the performance fall from great to simply good.

We attended the opening night. There was one glitch with the stage, but that went unnoticed. Ferdindand tripped on the stage and hurt his ankle, but the actor recovered quite well.

The opening scene is supposed to be rather chaotic, with the tempest taking out the ship. However, this opening was a bit too chaotic. The setting is modern (with a 1930s style ship and radar which was visually stunning), but the actors are set behind a screen and stuck into a small space. The actors rushed their lines a bit and it was very difficult to understand anything they said. They should take a lesson from the actress who plays Miranda. She was eloquent and poised and delivered a near flawless performace, which is saying a lot for a first-night performance.

We really enjoyed the play, despite the lack of air conditioning in the RSC. I mean, please! Those lights alone generate so much heat that an AC is necessary. When you pack the house (it was sold out), you can't expect the audience to fan themselves with their programs, but that's what everyone did and it was the most distracting element you can imagine.

But all of these complaints are easily fixed. Let the actors move more on stage. Cool the theatre. Then you'll have not just a good play but a great one. Especially if you have Patrick Stewart giving his last soliloquy to the entire audience and not just those lucky enough to have front-row center seats. But barring these, we really enjoyed the performance and recommend.

Our plans for the rest of vacation

We're headed to London tomorrow and won't have internet access. I'll upload a few pictures and do my final blogs once we get back to the states.


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