Saturday, 14 January 2017

The Tempest live streamt

Whoever came up with the idea of live streaming top theatrical performances into cinemas around the country and beyond deserves all the riches of Heaven bestowed upon her/him. If nothing else, it permits us masses to retain a fuzzy glow about something, even as our human rights are removed, the NHS and schools are sold off for profit, and our children's wages line the pockets of slum landlords.

The first live stream I saw was a 2011 performance of John Hodge's 'Collaborators'a satire based on the relationship between writer Mikhail Bulgakov and Joseph Stalin, in which Simon Russell Beale played the dictator with a (to me very familiar, and therefore terrifying) West Country accent. It was SRB again in a live stream of King Lear three years ago, also at the National, and again three nights ago, playing Prospero in the RSC's latest production of The Tempest.  

Guardian/Tristram Kenton

This time Beale's got his work cut out, being pitted against a jaw-dropping array of special effects that I'd never thought to see in a theatrical production (even one being shown in a cinema). How does an actor impose her- or himself on a whirl of bats, mad dogs, drowning fathers, and fiery spirits, while a pine tree imprisons Ariel before the audience's eyes, tightening and cracking its branches? Rough magic indeed. He manages it, however, as the commanding and mostly calm (but sometimes frighteningly rageful) eye of the storm, ultimately conquering his desire to control others and converting his need for revenge to pity. A humanity that trumps all digital wizardry.

Not all the casting was great. The courtiers were fairly forgettable, Miranda tended to bleat at moments of high tension, Ferdinand resembled Jimmy Carr and was similarly irritating. Stephano and Trinculo were hilarious, however, even though the latter's costume made him look as if he'd stepped straight out of the video for The Prodigy's Firestarter. I was even enthralled by the betrothal masque, through which I usually doze. As for Caliban - well, Caliban made me cry, though that's nothing new. 

In fact, the production stirred a seething of emotions. On a personal level, the settling of post-divorce legal wrangling a few days earlier also put an end to a baleful, 36-year enchantment, allowing me to inhabit fully my brave new world.  More broadly, the intimations in the play of Shakespeare's withdrawal from the theatre, mirrored by Prospero's breaking of his staff, recalled more recent losses, underlined by the first anniversary of David Bowie's death, and I wept a little for all our lost magicians.  And now that the Brexit button is about to be pushed and those who would turn this country into John Of Gaunt's island fortress hold sway, the rest of us must, like Prospero, find a new way forward, where every third thought shall (not quite yet) be the grave.   

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