Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre is now 30 years old and a grande dame of the British Theatre, but it still has the ability to excite, creating some of the best theatre in the country. Greg Hersov’s production of The Tempest, by William Shakespeare is very enjoyable indeed, containing some great performances. But crucially Hersov makes The Tempest a comprehensible and enjoyable evening out, without having to be a friend of The Bard to understand the play, but without dumbing down either.
Hersov’s concept is modern with stylishly elegant Italian suits for the shipwrecked (from a luxury yacht) King of Naples and his retinue, and more ethereal costume for the permanent inhabitants of the island.
Noted screen and stage actor Pete Postlethwaite plays Prospero, the master of the magical isle and usurped Duke of Milan. Whilst Postlethwaite is very good, this production of the play seemed to focus emphasis on the other characters, particularly Ferdinand and Miranda’s young love, with Prospero a fond old man pretty much from the start (as opposed to Patrick Stewart for the RSC in 2006, who played the part with rather more brawn). Shakespeare wrote this play towards the end of his career, and it is widely seen as a reflection on getting old and his farewell to the stage. Postlethwaite brings out the pathos towards the emotional end of the play, when he gives up his magic, without ever becoming too high pitched or sentimental, I was genuinely sad and moved for him by the final lines. His loyal spirit Ariel is played by Steven Robertson armed with a Scottish accent and a pair of whit briefs, he is fluid of movement and actually quite spirit like (which is naturally an rather indefinable quality on paper). It was a performance which grew on me throughout the evening, ultimately I thought it touching and accomplished. Caliban, Prospero’s slave, is played by Simon Trinder, san shirt but with ingrained dirt and scars, but still not very horrible looking. Caliban starts off angry at his situation and treatment, but Trider eventually becomes an endearing and funny presence, perhaps an irrepressible part of the actor’s always likeable personality, but it doesn’t quite work, he is no brutal savage. Trinder does initially capture the emotion of desolation and mistreatment, and he dose convey an interesting note of vulnerability, but both seem to get lost along the journey.
I could list the many fine actors in the play, but it is sufficient to say that they company performed very well, particularly a hunky Ferdinand in Oliver Kieran-Jones (his Miranda, Samantha Roberts, was unfortunately a little bit bland, but nicely earnest). Stefano and Trinculo (Trevor Cooper and Toby Sedgwick respectively), the King’s butlers, strongly reminded me of the tramps in Waiting for Godot, and I think they should read for the roles in any upcoming production, both being well suited to the parts and a good team to boot.
The simple in the round production (as always at the Exchange) has little set or scenery, only the basics, but I still got a great impression of magical island, the production eventually casting its spell over me. You feel Prospero’s tragedy, the tragedy of old age.