Shakespeare Trilogy – The Tempest
Donmar Warehouse at King’s Cross Theatre
Cast Includes Harriet Walter as Prospero
Running Time: 1 hour 45 mins
The Donmar Warehouse Shakespeare Trilogy has been a long time in the making. Starting life as a a single production between Harriet Walter and director Phyllida Lloyd of Julius Caesar, it now consists of The Tempest and Henry IV as well.
Firstly, this is an all-female production, and the trilogy shares the same cast, very much like repertory theatre. As discussed in the programme, Shakespeare’s work does not contain many major female characters (155 out of 981 are female) and many have considerably less to do – these productions go some way to addressing that and making a debate as to gender-blind and colour-blind casting in Shakespearean productions.
But that is all academic if it is a weak cast, and I am pleased to say that it is not. What we get is a really diverse and exciting group of actors which are a million miles away from a traditional production that are regularly white, speak in RP and male. From the energetic Jade Anouka as Ariel to the wonderful Sophie Stanton as Caliban, we are offered a treat when it comes to the amount of variety among the cast. This is all set around Harriet Walter’s magnificent performance as Prospero that flips between love and anger in an instant and is amazing in the part.
Shakespeare purists may not enjoy what has been done to the text – a large amount of it has been cut and edited to bring it under 2 hours, however the play feels both fresh and alive, and there were no points where I got bored because of the fast pace, and I felt the production brought a freshness and vitality to the piece.
Setting The Tempest in prison is a nice idea – the similarities that Harriet Walter draws between Prospero and her prisoner character are intriguing, and this is something that I will enjoy seeing again in Henry IV. The only flaw that I can see with the setting is the fact that the chairs the audience sit in are very uncomfortable (I felt like I was back in school assembly) and whilst this is an artistic choice, I felt that this was less successful, and I would have been uncomfortable if I had seen the whole trilogy in one day. I did however really enjoy the ‘prisoners’ being brought through the audience at start of the show, and the holding area before the auditorium is unique and something not achievable in a traditional venue.
Summary: A talented all-female cast brings The Tempest to life in a non-traditional venue and intermeshes the text within an intriguing prison setting. ****