Michael Bogdanov is a man with a vision: of making Shakespeare exciting and accessible again. When the informing ethos of the ESC works, it works beautifully, but when it doesn't it, erhm, doesn't. The two productions in rep at the Royalty are six of one and half a dozen of the other: where the dark potency of his vision of Macbeth is undermined by coarsely directed acting, The Tempest's performances are torpedoed by being played against an incomprehensible futuristic cityscape backdrop on a set of urban debris. Bogdanov is also bidding to corner the dry-ice market: hell is murky, but Scotland need not be, let alone Prospero's Mediterranean isle.
John Woodvine alternates an adept Prospero with a diverting Porter and a functional Duncan; Tony Haygarth's Scouse Trinculo is much better executed than his Macbeth, who oppresses the verse as much as he does his realm; praise, too, for Olwen Fouere's Annie Lennox-like Ariel and Ravil Isyanov's contorted, totem-wielding Caliban (Isyanov's barely-perceptible hesitancy in speaking a non-native language adds to the portrayal). But the actors' work, and Bogdanov's welcome directorial humour ("No tongue" becomes not an injunction to silence but a prohibition on French kissing), are continually stymied by the design, whose comments on Prospero's delusions are at best dimly apparent.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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