June 23, 1989: Shakespeare, The Tempest

Barbican, Royal Shakespeare Company

John Wood as Prospero. Wood is a compelling actor with a great talent (I remember him in Stoppard’s Jumpers.) He brings to his role a refreshing sense of being a common, ordinary man. I sensed in his approach to the role a portrayal of a very angry man, subject to great rages, who by mere force of will was kind, gentle, solicitous, non-threatening. In a later conversation, a colleague of mine said he sensed Wood’s Prospero allowing his feelings to surface for the first time even as he tells Miranda of the events that led to their arriving on the desert isle.

In any case, this was a good mounting of the play — a steeply raked oval with a deep trap, also oval or arched, in the center for Prospero’s cave. It looked a bit like a racing oval, though of course it was intended to suggest a world — a flat world, perhaps. Much good fun from Trinculo and the monster.  Excellent perfor­m­ances from the Trinculo, the Caliban. (Program not handy.) My companion and I both thought the renunciation scene was not fully convincing. The broken staff was too evidently a prepared staff, and Wood’s Prospero didn’t seem really of a mind to give it all up — there was neither positive decisiveness nor clear ambiv­alence in the moment. The Ariel a full-grown young man muscular but lithe, made up as blue-gray to match the color of the scrim surrounding the playing area. A fine presentation of the masque, including the revelation behind the scrim of a harvest scene with young men and women in peasant clothing.


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An American Playgoer in London by Joseph Donohue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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