The Tempest in Stratford
Just occasionally theatre can deliver an experience which is sheer magic. It doesnâ€™t happen all that often and sometimes the magic only lasts a brief while or in snatches.
Such is the case with two of the Royal Shakespeare Companyâ€™s productions which have opened the new theatre in Stratford. Kathryn Hunter produced all kinds of extraordinary magic in her performance of Cleopatra and, even though she has been replaced for the last performances ,there is still much to enjoy about the production. There is more magic in King Lear. Greg Hicks has grown in the part of Lear during the course of a long run and provides some quite wonderful moments, particularly with the incomparable Geoffrey Freshwater as Gloucester. The scene at the end where they meet up is very moving. So is the relationship between Gloucester and Poor Tom (played with great flexibility both physically and vocally by Charles Aitkin). Kelly Hunter as Goneril and Katy Stephens as Regan create hideously dynamic and powerful monsters, while John Mackay, most unusually, manages to make Albany interesting. There are interesting directorial decisions, too, which create their moments of magic for those who know the text well, such as that when the Fool (originally magnifiently playedÂ by Kathryn Hunter and now ably presented by Sophie Russell) makes a clear decision not to follow Lear into the storm. Plenty of magic moments here.
But thatâ€™s not why Iâ€™m writing this. There is magic in the Swan Theatre these two weeks which lasts for an hour and a quarter and is not to be missed. Itâ€™s a production of The Tempest undertaken jointly by Little Angel Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. David Fielder plays Prospero and six other people play nine characters, a range of puppets, Â six musical instruments and sing. Itâ€™s advertised as appropriate for ages 7+, but thereâ€™s also plenty for adults and Shakespeare fans.
From the moment when seagulls indicate a ship at sea and when Prospero creates the storm with his magic staff, to the return of the seagulls as the characters leave to board the ship at the end, you are held spellbound and delighted. Ariel and Caliban are puppets with their puppet masters providing their voices.
There are some fine performances. Prospero makes clear a huge range of emotions and reactions. Anneika Rose is stunning â€“ beautiful, innocent, physically and vocally most impressive and coherent â€“ as Miranda.
I laughed with delight a couple of times at the songs.Â The kids in the audience (they were the majority and loved it) were shocked, horrified and delighted by Caliban and his antics. The adults were surprised that the text was not modernised and delighted by the amazingly slick character and costume changes. Â Those who know stretches of the play by heart were surprised and delighted by the deft cutting and pasting of the text. Â There are also some stunning textual interepretations, such as the ballgown costumes which entice Stephano and Trinculo turningÂ magically into threatening dogs and the banquet platters housing not food butÂ beasts. The plot was beautifully clear, the set, consisting of a shipâ€™s hull/cave entrance/bower/chess room/seagull-perch, singersâ€™ and playersâ€™ rostrum, a joy to look at.
I have not seen anything so delightful, skilful, slick and engaging for a long time.
If youâ€™re coming to Stratford to see one of the big three, then stay the following morning and see The Tempest at 10:30. Itâ€™s a very short run; itâ€™s on from tomorrow (Wednesday 15 March) until Saturday 26 March each day except Sundays at 10:30; today (Tuesday 15 March), Saturday 19 March, Tuesday 22 March, Thursday 24 March and Saturday 26 March at 1:30 and thereâ€™s one evening performance â€“ Thursday 17 March at 7:30.
If youâ€™re staying overnight stay that little bit longer to catch it next morning. If not, make a special jourrney.Â Â
If you canâ€™t get to StratfordÂ make sure you experience Â it at Little Angel Theatre in London from 9 April to 15 May.
Â And, of course, why not stay the night at Moss Cottage?