The Tempest – William Shakespeare – Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford, 18 February 2023, 4****, Rod Dungate

The Tempest in this current RSC production feels fresh; the gender swapping of some of the roles is part of the reason, only, this is par for the course these days.  It is more to do with the realism (I use the word broadly) of the production’s context – Prospero and Miranda, here have made use of bits and pieces that have clearly been washed up, plastic not excepted.   Everything they wear and use has been cobbled together from this material.  But the magic of the island is not lost, coming to powerful fruition in the second half. 

A production is more than a meaningful concept, and this production is weakened by poor voice work from many performers especially in the first half.  Far too much shouting and not enough clarity.  Voices settle down in the second half when characters are enabled to speak to each other.

Alex Kingston is a fine Prospero; she presents a natural authority and grounds her character well while also presenting the verse with skill.  Jessica Rhodes’ Miranda is hard on the ear in her early scenes but settles down to give us an engaging young woman.  Joseph Payne’s Ferdinand is clearly of royal stock and creates a charming naiveté without it being soppy.

Caliban is a great difficulty for me in the play, the treatment he receives is unbelievably cruel. Hear, for instance, Prospero’s description of him at the play’s end, no healing here.  The received wisdom is nature without nurture, but it does not work for me in the present day.  This debate is ironically underlined at every moment by this Caliban’s physical presence, the farthest possible from the misformed creature everybody describes.  Tommy Sim’Aan is honest and touching.  His description of the sounds on the island is one of the loveliest moments in the production.

Heledd Gwynn’s multi-faceted Arial is suitably mercurial ; while I would like to have seen greater depth from time to time her characterisation is well-rounded.

Audio description is kept to a minimum, giving us just enough information without cluttering things up; spot on.                     

Elizabeth Freestone’s production is skilled and inventive from moment to moment, but lacks a coherent wholeness to hold it together.  Still, greatly enjoyable.


Prospero – Alex Kingston, Miranda – Jessica Rhodes, Ariel – Heledd Gwynn, Caliban – Tommy Sim’Ann, Antonio – Jamie Ballard, Alonso – Peter De Jersey, Sebastian – Grace Cookey-Gam, Ferdinand – Joseph Payne, Gonzalo – Ishia Bennison, Adrian – David Lee-Jones, Francisco – Jonny Khan, Trinculo – Cath Whitefield, Stephano – Simon Startin, Master – Tina Chiang, Boatswain – Rodrigo Penalosa Pita, Mariners – Natalie Kimmerling/David Osmond, Iris – Natalia Campbell, Juno – Liz Jadav, Cres – Imogen Slaughter


Director – Elizabeth Freestone, Set Designer – Tom Piper, Costumes – Tom Piper/Natasha Ward, Lighting – Johanna Town, Composer – Adrienne Quarterly

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