The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0349 Monday, 24 February 2003
Date: Friday, 21 Feb 2003 11:08:09 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Review of The Tempest at the Old Vic
Old Vic Theatre - London
Runs 16 January - 15 March 2003
"Derek Jacobi plays 'Prospero' and Daniel Evans plays 'Ariel' in this
major revival which comes into London's West End following a successful
season at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre earlier this year."
When I saw this production of The Tempest last week, it was my first
visit to London's Old Vic theater. I grew up attending plays at San
Francisco's Geary Theater (built in 1909) and I was surprised to note
how similar the Geary is to the Old Vic (built in 1818). The Geary is
larger, more gilded, and of course has no coat of arms on the arch. The
Old Vic is the more beautiful theater.
This was also my first time seeing Derek Jacobi in person. I enjoyed the
performance but Prospero did more shouting than seemed necessary. The
booming sound effects were also more startling than effective. The
transition between the opening storm scene and Prospero's first speech
on the island was delightful and unexpected: the entire backdrop fell
down and was sucked away into his magic book laying open on the stage.
The actor playing Miranda was a bit old for the role but the lovers'
seemingly boundless delight with each other made up for that. Ferdinand
was played by a burly and tall young man who tried not to loom over the
smaller and more delicately built Prospero. Jacobi walked the line well
between showing pride in Miranda and a scolding protectiveness of her
The production is fun and well worth seeing.
We had a wonderful fish dinner at Livebait just up The Cut from the Old
In getting ready for this trip, I read an interesting book: _The
Intelligent Traveller's Guide to Historic Britain_ by Philip A. Crowl.
It provides a very detailed review of British history entirely from the
point of view of the artifacts, locations, and architecture which can
still be seen today. It is written for a reader who is already
well-read. For example, the chapter "Military and Political Affairs
1307-1461" offers this delightful introduction:
For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings:
How some have been depos'd, some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have depos'd...
Thus in the words of King Richard II, does Shakespeare summarize the
history of English royalty in the later Middle Ages. The Bard
exaggerates -- but not much. From the death of Edward I (1307) to the
accession of Henry VII (1485), four English monarchs were murdered
(Edward II, Richard II, Henry VI, Edward V); one was killed in battle
(Richard III); and one died of disease contracted during battle (Henry
V). Out of this bloody chronicle came the material for eight of
Shakespeare's plays, and out of these plays English-speaking people
everywhere have derived an indelible image of the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries as a time of almost unrelieved bloodletting on and
off the battlefield. The great duke of Marlborough once referred to
this corpus of historical drama as 'the only History of England I ever
read.' Countless others could have said the same before and since.
That Shakespeare as a historian is unreliable, that he distorted the
truth for dramatic purposes, that his plays were vehicles for Tudor
propaganda -- is now well known. It is also mostly beside the point.
The fact is that much of what is significant about the history of
England in the later Middle Ages can best be appreciated as drama or
even melodrama. The center stage is peopled mostly with kings and
queens, princes and nobles; the plot revolves around their personal
ambitions, fears, jealousies, and affections; the denouement, more often
than not, is tragic. Shakespeare was right.
_The Intelligent Traveller's Guide to Historic Britain_ is not in print
but it seems readily available used. I saw several copies when I was
poking around in used book stores here in Palo Alto, California.
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