Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
Opened 2 October, 2002

Michael Grandage takes The Tempest at a fair old lick. His final Sheffield Crucible production before additionally taking the helm at London's Donmar Warehouse in December comes in at under an hour each side of the interval. Yet it feels neither rushed nor tattered by the editor's scissors. Grandage's characteristic marriage of diligence and liveliness sees him through in fine form.

All too often, directors and actors find themselves plumping for a single mode in their Prospero: the magician at the wondrous centre of Shakespeare's only utterly original tale; the manipulator arranging people and circumstances to suit his personal plans; the tyrant succumbed to "cabin fever" after a dozen years on his island, oppressing Ariel and Caliban in their different ways; the ageing man grown conscious of his own mortality; or whatever. Frequently, but one note is sounded; sometimes, if we are lucky, a harmonic is discernible. Grandage and Derek Jacobi pull off a deep, rich chord.

Christopher Oram's set puts a crumbling proscenium arch and raised, though sagging, stage (complete with clamshell footlights) at the rear of the Crucible's playing area. Usually this location signifies Prospero's cell, but it keeps the idea of performance and artificiality before us without hammering the point home roughly. In Prospero's great "We are such stuff as dreams are made of" speech, spoken at the end of the magically summoned masque, Jacobi feels on this stage-upon-a-stage partly like an embittered director, but also one facing the sobering prospect of the end of his last big run. In the final scene, his nobility barely keeps in check his revanchism and jealous attachment to his daughter Miranda: he almost lunges at the King of Naples when the latter makes to embrace his new daughter-in-law.

The Caliban question is an emblem of how deftly matters are handled in general. Louis Hilyer plays him not as the shambling monster described in Prospero's rhetoric, nor as the innocent victim of the sorcerer's despotism, but simply as a man ragged, salt-encrusted, but a man unlearned and somewhat abused, who comes to a kind of wisdom by the end as he tiredly trots out a pro forma apology to humour Prospero as much as to show his own penance.

Daniel Evans' Ariel is usually supported by a couple of supernumerary spirits, whether helping him sing the "Flout 'em and scout 'em" catch (sung, for once, as a catch) or bearing his fifteen-foot-span butterfly wings on his first entrance. Ariel, too, is more complex than usual, daring to be petulant to Prospero about his promised release from bondage even quite late in the proceedings. The nobles are led by a couple of familiar faces on the Crucible stage, Robert East as King Alonso and John Nettleton as the faithful adviser Gonzalo; Richard Clothier and Iain Robertson make a young but effective double act as the drunken would-be insurrectionist servants Stephano and Trinculo. And after a too-static opening scene of the tempest itself, Grandage's clear, bright production covers pretty much the entire waterfront skilfully.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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