Thursday, November 24, 2016

'The Tempest' by William Shakespeare

24 November 2016

On Tuesday we were at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon to see Greg Doran’s new production of ‘The Tempest’, starring Simon Russell Beale as Prospero. I had only seen ‘The Tempest’ once before (reviewed here in April 2012) and regular readers might remember that my low expectations of the play set me up for a very enjoyable experience. This time round my expectations were much higher and, perhaps inevitably, I wasn’t quite so taken with the play. Nevertheless this new production, by the Royal Shakespeare Company in collaboration with Intel and in association with the Imaginarium Studios, was a stunning spectacle. Two years in the making, the collaboration brings groundbreaking digital effects to the stage. Imaginarium Studios, established by motion-capture pioneer Andy Serkis, have created a digital avatar of Ariel, driven by live motion-capture from the body of the actor Mark Quartley, allowing him to appear simultaneously on stage and projected onto a series of moving curtains. Stephen Brimson Lewis’s amazing set turns the auditorium of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre into the innards of an enormous wrecked ship. Projection behind the set and on the surface of the stage creates beautiful dreamlike tableaux, particularly effective in the masque towards the end of the play that features three opera singers – Alison Arnopp, Samantha Hay and Jennifer Witton – singing original music by Paul Englishby. The digital technology is impressive but never overwhelms the play itself, thanks partly to a compelling performance by Simon Russell Beale as a Prospero with an uncanny resemblance to Obi Wan Kenobi. I was feeling my age, reflecting on having seen Simon Russell Beale play Hamlet – it’s only a matter of time before I will be watching him as King Lear! There were also outstanding physical performances by Mark Quartley as Ariel and Joe Dixon as Caliban. But it is the experience of feeling like part of a giant digital art installation that will live long in the memory. You can see videos about the digital development of ‘The Tempest’ at and

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