The Tempest – two 21st Century productions

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This is part of a series of blogs on Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, blogs will be posted both here and at on Fridays.

This blog is really too short for two full theatre reviews but I would like to conclude the Collections and Learning teams joint celebration on The Tempest with a little about the last two productions of The Tempest that I have seen, a few bare facts and a favourite moment or two from both.

The Tempest 2006 – Directed by Rupert Goold

(read a full review here)

This production was set in the Artic, a surprising choice which audiences either loved or hated. Strange as the choice may seem it had an interesting effect on some of the lines. Gonzalo who usually seems a good natured optimist attempting to make the best of a bad situation by pointing to the virtues of the island, now seemed like a naïve fool. But to my mind the best thing about this production was Ariel played as a brooding masculine spirit who brought new meaning to the word dour. When Ariel was set free he returned to the wood stove and turned to flame. A move I initially understood as suicidal but in fact it was intended to be a return to freedom by returning to the elemental spirit (just don’t call me a pessimist). Another nice touch here was Miranda. They had really given thought to what someone would be like who had grown up with only Prospero and Caliban for company. From the walk to the talk this Miranda was believably strange.

The Tempest 2009 directed by Janice Honeyman

(read a full review here)

From the Artic setting of the previous production we are transported now to an imaginary space inspired by a variety of African settings. For me this was the most successful production of The Tempest I have yet seen. It had magic and power and portrayed the relationships between the characters as sufficiently complex. One particularly good moment sees Prospero force Ariel to relive his imprisonment in the tree. Using puppets of two giant hands the young agile Ariel is held unwilling prisoner. But perhaps the most interesting moment of this stunning production came right at the end. You may know that the final lines of The Tempest are spoken by Prospero:

As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

These lines are usually directed at the audience and usually interpreted as a plea by the actor for applause. But here they were spoken by Prospero to Caliban as Caliban blocks the exit. There is a moment when one wonders whether Caliban is about to take his revenge and Prospero’s words are a very direct plea for mercy. A mercy he is granted.

Thank you all for following this series. I hope you have enjoyed our blogs here and at Finding Shakespeare.  See you in the new year!

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Author:Liz Dollimore

Someone who loves listening to people talk about Shakespeare Liz tweets at @shakespeareBT
  • Liz Woledge

    I must admit that I found the Jarman film rather baffling when I saw it at university – but I like your reading of it. Isolation probably is pretty dreadful though. ^liz

  • Liz Woledge

    I must admit that I found the Jarman film rather baffling when I saw it at university – but I like your reading of it. Isolation probably is pretty dreadful though. ^liz

  • Andrew

    Like you, Liz, I loved the South African production and after I saw it I went back to the Derek Jarman film which I’d first seen in the cinema 30 years ago. The standard post-colonial interpretation makes the island a paradise which is invaded by Prospero but Jarman sees the isolation from other people as a living hell which everyone on the island is only too happy to leave. Same play, different choices.

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