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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: February ::
Re: Review of The Tempest at the Old Vic
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0359 Tuesday, 25 February 2003

[1]     From:   David Lindley <
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        Date:   Monday, 24 Feb 2003 19:26:38 GMT0BST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0349 Review of The Tempest at the Old Vic

[2]     From:   David M Richman <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 25 Feb 2003 07:06:06 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0349 Review of The Tempest at the Old Vic


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Lindley <
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Date:           Monday, 24 Feb 2003 19:26:38 GMT0BST
Subject: 14.0349 Review of The Tempest at the Old Vic
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0349 Review of The Tempest at the Old Vic

I, too, went to see the Gandage/Jacobi Tempest, and have to say that I
was very disappointed - particularly as some of the newspaper reviewers
I most respect (Mr Weinstein, please note) had written very favourably
of the production.

The text was heavily cut (1hr 50 mins playing time) - not necessarily a
problem, and in the case of 2.1 possibly a blessing; though the heavy
cutting of the masque I was less happy with.  I agree with Katy
Dickinson that Miranda and Ferdinand came out of it well - they managed
to give 3.1 something of the hesitancy yet ceremony it requires, and,
praise be, kept physical contact to the simple moment of the
handfasting.  Nonetheless some pandering to modern susceptibilities was
evident in the cutting of Ferdinand's later protestations that he will
not anticipate their wedding night, and in the adoption (as in Boyd's
2002 RSC production) of the, to me, utterly implausible notion that
Prospero's injunction 'No tongue, all eyes' is a prohibition of French
kissing.

The Stephano/Trinculo/Caliban sub-plot went for not very much, with a
good deal of shouting, and neither with much inventiveness in the comic
business, nor, alternatively, an attempt to convey the potential
brutality of Stephano.  (This latter was much better done in Boyd's
production, as the comedy had been in Noble's RSC production in 1998.)
The Caliban seemed neither one thing nor another; the blotched make-up
tried to suggest the scars of Prospero's punishment, but he seemed
merely resentful rather than enraged.  At the end his recognition of his
folly in following Stephano and Trinculo was played straight, acquiring
a certain dignity, and his repentance was endorsed by a hesitant
forgiving touch from Jacobi's Prospero.

Though the Alonso did, for once, manage to persuade one of his grief at
the loss of his son, and of his penitence, he was not helped, visually,
by having a sword rather improbably strapped around his lounge suit.
Antonio and Sebastian were unconvincing villains - as they of course
often are. (Though I found Boyd's villains much more persuasive in 2002,
and in the otherwise pretty dismal Globe production of 2000 found the
more comic version of a quick-witted Antonio exasperated at an
excessively dim Sebastian's slowness on the uptake worked surprisingly
well. 2.1 is a horrid scene to play, but it can be done.)

The Ariel was a welcome change from the highly resentful servant which
has tended to dominate productions for a very long time; light of build
and sprightly of movement, he managed both to convey Ariel's delight in
his abilities, and yet not to lose the undertow of desire for freedom.
He was also given rather good music to sing, and moved easily between
the tenor and alto-falsetto ranges (increasingly the norm for Ariel,
perhaps under the influence of Benjamin Britten's alto Oberon in his
Midsummer Night's Dream.)  Though I do have a particular nostalgia for
Stephen Oliver's score, including the through-composed operatic masque,
which graced 1982, this restrained but effective music, lightly
accompanied, was one of the successes of the production.  At the end I
thought at first we were to have a replay of 1982, when Ariel departed
before Prospero's final instructions to him, but this time Ariel was
simply sitting downstage right, and when freed exited with a slow walk
and backward, almost regretful glance at his erstwhile master.

Jacobi, I'm afraid, I did find disappointing.  The more so since I
consider his 1982 rendition (memory supported by repeated viewings of
the archive video) one of the most persuasive I have seen.  But then,
this was perhaps because I was looking forward to seeing how the 60+year
old actor would return to a part he played in his forties - and it is no
doubt invidious to go to a production in order continuously to measure
it against the past.  The surprise, however, was how little had
changed.  The curtain which disappeared into the book at the end of the
storm to reveal Jacobi trembling with the effort of his magic was a
fairly direct repeat of 1982.  From his angry tones in his first
exchanges with his daughter, through to the moment when he shouted
'There sir, stop' out of horror as his daughter was about to be embraced
by his erstwhile enemy in Act 5, much seemed to be simply carried over
from his earlier reading, though, to my ear at least, without quite the
conviction that the younger man had been able to bring to the desire to
get his dukedom back.  And whereas in 1982 he had delivered 'Our revels
now are ended' with a quiet intensity, as if appalled at the recognition
of the limits of art's power, now he simply went for anger and shouted
his way through the speech.  This meant that the powerful 1982 contrast
with the next set-piece, the 'Ye elves' speech, which follows so quickly
afterwards, though he again managed an effective crescendo as he
celebrated his magic powers before renouncing them, was rather too much
in the same tone of voice.  But then, though he was given a substantial
magic cloak, his magic power seemed somehow less central to his reading
than it had in 1982.

That production was visually extremely striking - though some then found
Maria Bjornson's setting, dominated by the wrecked hulk of a ship, too
overpowering.  Here the stage was divided into two levels, with a
cracked and decaying proscenium arch set across the width of the stage
half way back.  (Perhaps the visual rhyme with the Old Vic's proscenium
arch was potentially more effective than it might have been at the
production's original staging in the round at the Crucible Theatre in
Sheffield.)  But if this seemed to be suggesting a reading of the play
in terms of meta-theatre, it signally failed to emerge elsewhere in the
production.  The idea remained just that, an undeveloped conceit - very
different, say, from Mendes's (or Strehler's) exploration of this
potential in the play.

In short, despite the lavish critical praise of the clarity and
swiftness of the production - which it certainly did have - it seemed to
me rather a journeyman effort, an underimagined vehicle for an
undoubtedly fine actor, who yet had not, it seems, been much encouraged
to revisit and rethink the play or his interpretation of the part.  But
then, it's perhaps time for me to give The Tempest a rest....

David Lindley
University of Leeds

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David M Richman <
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Date:           Tuesday, 25 Feb 2003 07:06:06 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 14.0349 Review of The Tempest at the Old Vic
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0349 Review of The Tempest at the Old Vic

Let me add a word on Derek Jacobi' performance as Prospero at the Old
Vic in London.  I am in London for the year, directing a study abroad
program, and thus privileged to go to a number of Shakespearean
productions.  (I prefer words like "response" or "account" to "review,"
and I count myself as neither an academic nor a professional reviewer.
That said, it was clear to my ear the Jacobi chose to portray an
anguished, angry Prospero.  Jacobi's voice was deliberately distorted
throughout by fury.  He kept exclusively to his upper register.  There
are times when he was almost painful to listen to.  This went well, I
think, with Prospero's knotty syntax and agitated rhythms.  Then, at the
end, Jacobi turned his back on the audience, broke his staff, dropped
the pieces to the stage (one could hear them fall) then came right
downstage, as close to the audience as he could get, and, speaking for
the first time softly and in his natural baritone register, said "Please
you, draw near."  The house lights came up and, again, in his natural
voice, Jacobi spoke the epilogue.  I know that it is against all good
post-modern tenets to feel strong emotion, and to admit that one feels
strong emotion is taken for a sign of weakness or vacuity.  I was very
near tears as I heard that epilogue, after the fury of the performance.

One other point that drew my attention:  every time the characters were
called upon to trust each other, the production contrived to express
doubt.  When Miranda said to Prospero "Are not you my father?" one could
hear the doubt and growing terror in her voice.  There was an implied
denial, at least a question, in Prospero's "Thy mother was a piece of
virtue."  Relations among Prospero, Ariel and Caliban were infinitely
complex.  No politically correct tendentiousness here; Caliban was
slave/victim and potential rapist.  His gusto on the "Would it had been
done" speech, contemplating the near-violation of Miranda was one of the
show's memorable bits.  So was the real lyric beauty in "The isle is
full of noises."  The production did not equivocate or gloss over the
play's many moral complexities and ambiguities.  Let me end with another
favorite moment:  Ariel says, "Do you love me master?"  Then, after a
deliberately protracted pause, he adds the line-completing word "no"
making the word a question, interrogatively lifting his voice.
Prospero's "Dearly my delicate Ariel" doesn't necessarily ring with
sincerity, and there is a note of anger, at least disappointment, in
Ariel's "Well, I conceive." When Ariel walks off at the end, free, there
may be expected, but there is not given, a moment of acknowledgment.

All in all, I found this a troubling production of a troubling play.

David Richman

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