Patrick Stewart is one of those performers that you cannot wait to see playing Shakespeare's 'big' roles. This season he has already given London his aging, regressing Mark Antony, now he turns his veritable stagecraft to the sorcerer Prospero in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of The Tempest. Matthew Amer was in the first night audience at the Novello, hoping for a magical performance…
Wind whistles and snow swirls on the barren, icy tundra that usurped Duke of Milan Prospero has called home since cast out of his dukedom 12 years earlier. As his usurpers happen to be passing his shores by ship, he summons a storm to bring them crashing into his world, so that he might have his revenge. So begins Rupert Goold's production of The Tempest.
Patrick Stewart, in this arctic setting, becomes a less wizardly Prospero, and more akin to an Inuit shaman, clothed in fur with a tattooed head. He is an often dictatorial Prospero, whose blood is prone to boiling, who runs his island in the way he wants it run, yet can melt into sentimentality in the very next breath.
As his spiritual henchman Ariel, Julian Bleach is the epitome of supernatural menace. His pale face and metronomic pace give him the feel of the elusive hunter that will never be outrun. Yet the dark pits of his eyes light with glee when he is granted his freedom.
Stewart and Bleach, Prospero and Ariel, control the performance; the anger, strength and power of one always matched by the other. Ken Bones and John Hopkins as conspirators Antonio and Sebastian build a partnership that is both sarcastically comic and undercut with never-resolved malice.
In contrast to Bleach's controlled Ariel, John Light's Caliban is more physical and animalistic, yet educated enough to deliver some of the production's most poetic lines; his education, enslavement and bribing with alcohol always hinting at colonisation and its failures, his future never resolved.
Giles Cadle's set, transformed as if by arctic magic behind a curtain of projected snow, evokes the bleak wilderness with simplicity, while Prospero's ramshackle hut appears to be the only place of any warmth.