One of the questions I am asked on a yearly basis is: “Why do directors feel the need to relocate Shakespeare? Why not play it traditionally?” Trevor Nunn’s The Tempest will be perfect for these questioners.
The former head of both the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre has played Shakespeare’s tale of a vengeful outcast sorcerer, who shipwrecks his usurpers to bring them to justice, straight down the line. There’s no elaborate setting, no forced politics, just the Bard’s story of revenge, regret and first love.
That’s not to say there isn’t a little flamboyance to the piece. There’s some aerial action from the ethereal sprits – among them Tom Byam Shaw’s Ariel, an androgynous cross between Peter Pan and Ziggy Stardust – much music from a spiritual choir, and a group of dancing nymphs, but few other flourishes have been added.
The star name at the centre of the production is British thesp and Hollywood star Ralph Fiennes, moving from playing the world’s most malicious magician – Harry Potter’s Lord Voldemort – to another crabby conjurer in the form of Prospero.
There is, as one might expect, less evil about his stage wizard. In fact, his Prospero feels very much like the tired, worn out father of a teenage girl. There is both pride and protection to be seen in his scenes with Elisabeth Hopper’s sweetly innocent Miranda and Michael Benz’s exuberantly earnest Ferdinand; both of the lovers capturing aspects of teenage first love in their performances.
Fiennes’s Prospero never really feels like he has the raging heart for taking revenge on his brother and his sibling’s collaborators, being far more concerned with his only daughter’s wellbeing. His time on the island has taken its toll on his vigour, rather than fed it.
Of the confused shipwreck survivors, James Simmons provides a suitably melancholic Alonso, mourning the supposed loss of his son, while Nicholas Lyndhurst and Shakespearean veteran Clive Wood have a comic chemistry as drunken jester and butler, Trinculo and Stephano. Giles Terera, as the monstrous third wheel of their comedy troupe, is as delicate and well-spoken a Caliban as you are ever likely to see.
When all is concluded and reparations made, as Fiennes delivers Shakespeare’s final epilogue, it is his sense of weariness, of tiredness, that lingers.