… stunning effects bring Shakespeare’s masque to life …


Masques, as Gregory Doran explains in his introduction, ” … were the multimedia events of their day, using innovative technology … to produce astonishing effects, with moving lights, and stage machinery that could make people fly, and descend from the clouds”  and with this stunning production, he succeeds in bringing the wondrous spectacle of a C17th masque into the c21st theatre.

The stage is an enormous ribbed carcass of a ship set stark and glowering against a changing backdrop which is used to great effect to complement the action with extraordinary skies and gorgeous apparitions.  In the centre, gauzes are dropped and raised showing drowning sailors, tree trunks and ghostly visitations; and amongst it all,  Ariel appears as multiple ethereal projections echoing his stage presence.  All of this is the result of a two year collaboration between Intel, Imaginarium and the RSC and it is a truly ravishing experience.

Unfortunately, I felt the director’s more unadorned approach to the acting of the play meant that the cast struggled to live up to their grand surroundings.  Simon Russell Beale came across more as a truculent and querulous Dad than a magisterial magician, though I must say, other reviewers found him outstanding.  Michael Billington in The Guardian, for instance, talks of  “his haunting portrait of culpable negligence and comprehensive mercy. ”  Read the rest of his comments here for a much more appreciative review of Beale’s performance.

I enjoyed the comedy of  Simon Trinder as a clownish Trinculo and Tony Jayawardena as the drunken butler, Stephano; and will certainly remember the opera singers, Samantha Hay and Jennifer Witton, playing the goddesses Ceres and Juno, for their spectacular entrances in the masque within the play.

I thoroughly enjoyed  this Tempest and I hope Gregory Doran‘s visionary use of technology will be the start of a new chapter at the RSC.  Ticket availability can be found on their website here.