In his ten years at the artistic helm of Shakespeare’s Globe, Mark Rylance has enjoyed some remarkable success. When it opened, this reconstructed Elizabethan-style outdoor playhouse was thought to be little more than a curio. Under Rylance’s tenure, though, the shows presented in its summer seasons have almost always been interesting and sometimes compelling. However, his final season kicks off uncertainly.
The Tempest has 18 named parts, plus various lords, sailors, spirits etc. This production has three actors. Yes, there are some singers, but in a gallery above the stage. And three dancers, but generally the shapes they throw are in order to help the actors shift between various characters rather than to represent any major figures. Mark Rylance, Alex Hassell and Edward Hogg do all the acting themselves.
You might think doing a Shakespeare play with a cast of three would cause problems. And, frankly, you’d be right. In the very first scene – the shipwreck – Rylance, as Prospero, does all the voices while moving chessmen around a board that he swirls through the air. As for the end – the Bard in standard “comedy” ending mode, with everybody brought on so it can all be explained – things get more than a little absurd.
Director Tim Carroll puts forward the theory that the spirit Ariel and the man-monster Caliban are both aspects of Prospero’s own nature, and that this “trinity” recurs throughout the play. It’s a fine theory, but that’s not a basis for an actual stage production. This feels like a “let’s see if we can make it work” experiment, a project to see what this approach does to the play rather than what it does for it.
There are some fine moments: the first low-comedy scene with Caliban and two drunken servants, or the notes of wistfulness in some of Rylance’s later lines as Prospero, preparing to depart. And the three-actor idea can set you thinking, if you already know the play well enough to keep track of things. If you don’t, though, what you get are a series of scenes and the intelligence test of putting them together yourself.
Written for Teletext.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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