There were crowds forming before ten in the morning for return tickets outside the theatre and indeed the draw of seeing Ralph Fiennes play Shakespeare was the reason I booked to see this.
Fiennes is a fine, fine actor in full command of his powers and his is a highly impressive and commanding Prospero. He manages to convey the torture and complexity of the role and has a lucid way with Shakespeare’s verse, speaking it beautifully, meaningfully and clearly. He also has a magnetic quality like most true acting stars and you are drawn to him wherever he is on stage. Fiennes is, by far, the best thing about this production and is certainly worth the admission price alone. When he opens his mouth for the first time and his magnificent voice sounds out you really are transfixed.
The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays, however this version by Trevor Nunn comes in at 3 hours. All faults in this production have been laid squarely at the feet of Nunn by the critics. Charles Spencer from the Telegraph blames Nunn’s ability to “bore for England.” It may be due to the fact that Nunn never seems to resist the temptation to turn everything he does into a lavish musical production – the parallels can really be drawn here as the set, with its crumbled buildings looks like he’s recycled it from Cats.
There are some moments of spectacle here as well as some Cirque de Soleil inspired ones and a whole lot of music (which probably results in its running time) but ultimately it’s Fiennes who is the source of all real quality and interest in the whole production.
Tom Byam Shaw is a bleached blonde Ariel and he captures the character’s sprightly nature well (he has an impish face which helps) but at moments to me he seemed a bit on the camp side – which elicited a few sniggers from the audience.
Elisabeth Hill as Miranda seemed wooden and unnatural at times when playing against Fiennes. Two years ago the 23yr old was at Manchester University and this is her first major role. Playing alongside a star such as Fiennes seem to be a step too far. His naturalness and believability just highlighted her stage school expressions of emotion.
Nicholas Lyndhurst displays his comic timing well as Trinculo and Clive Wood plays a spectacularly drunk and boorish Stephano.
I am glad I saw this, for all its faults I wouldn’t have passed up the chance to see Ralph Fiennes on stage and he certainly surpassed any expectations I had. A truly great actor at the height of his powers and a real talent for Shakespeare.