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The Tempest, RSC at Barbican, review: ‘Beale is powerful, but projections stall and distract’

PUBLISHED: 14:24 12 July 2017 | UPDATED: 14:24 12 July 2017

Jenny Rainsford as Miranda and Daniel Easton as Ferdinand with centre Simon Russell Beale as Prospero. Picture: Topher McGrilli

Jenny Rainsford as Miranda and Daniel Easton as Ferdinand with centre Simon Russell Beale as Prospero. Picture: Topher McGrilli

Archant

it’s telling that when Beale steps into the spotlight to directly deliver Shakespeare’s farewell to the stage it’s the night’s least gimmicky yet most affecting moment

The big noise about Gregory Doran’s sometimes rocky production are the special effects and motion-capture Aeriel created by Andy Serkis’ Imaginarium Studios.

But while the kaleidoscopic projections which flood the Barbican stage can summon a raging storm, sylvan glade or diabolic vision, they also stall and distract from the project at hand.

Ultimately the play’s the thing, and of course the performers. Mark Quartley’s tiptoeing, whispering body-stockinged spirit proves more beguiling than his Intel-powered virtual alter ego.

Designer Stephen Brimson Lewis conjures the cracked ribs of a vast wreck – reminiscent of Henry VIII’s salvaged Mary Rose – to frame the action in a Jacobean-inflected production that’s all about the senses.

The masque for Miranda and Ferdinand’s nuptials, an opportunistic Jacobean showcase for mummers and minstrels – is here relished with a trio of glittering operatic goddesses in psychedelic colours.

And the island’s ‘sweet airs’ are evoked with a chorus of faceless dancing spirits singing Paul Englishby’s haunting score.

Simon Russell Beale’s quietly powerful, at times hoarse-voiced Prospero is as if in the eye of the storm. Barefoot and sporting a tatty professor’s gown his wronged Duke of Milan is so understated he seems more depressed and irritable than anguished, but you can’t fault the clarity and precision of his performance.

Jenny Rainsford’s appealingly androgynous Miranda is a cheeky counterfoil, credibly delighted by this brave new world, and Joe Dixon’s Caliban cuts a sympathetic Quasi Modo figure as the bullied Caliban.

But it’s telling that when Beale steps into the spotlight to directly deliver Shakespeare’s farewell to the stage it’s the night’s least gimmicky yet most affecting moment.

The Tempest runs until August 18.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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