This Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production of Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST, two years in the making, and well directed by Gregory Doran, will probably be remembered for two main things- its amazing use of the latest technology for great special effects and, after twenty years, the return of Simon Russell Beale to the RSC stage, playing the role of Prospero.

Brimson Lewis’s multi layered set is the huge decaying spine and ribs of a broken, sunken ship while director Gregory Doran and designer Stephen Brimson Lewis, working with actor Andy Serkis’  Imaginarium Studios, have developed a series of grandiose images — from terrifying hounds of Hell to charming landscapes and striking underwater images – that add to events rather than distract from them.

The lavish, elaborate masque Prospero conjures up to bless the marriage of Miranda and Ferdinand featured vibrant colours, astonishing costumes, three singers, several dancers, peacock tails and stylised landscapes.

Beale as Prospero is  gruff with a hidden power that he unleashes unexpectedly. He dominates Ariel and Caliban , and also controls Miranda who he dotingly loves. Prospero manipulates all the events on the island with Ariel’s help.

His speeches in Act 2, particularly when he abjures his magic and breaks his staff, and the final speech were given compelling renditions by Beale.

We can feel Beales’ Prospero’s resentment brewing.  He’s had 12 years on his island to imagine what he’d do to the brother who usurped his dukedom, and when the time comes his ‘forgiveness’ is obviously quite reluctant. His relationship with Ariel was more like being a friendly ally than a master and indentured servant. Still, at times, Prospero asserts his dominance up until their final, quite moving parting of the ways.

Poor, misshapen (looking a bit like Frankenstein’s monster) but treacherous Caliban was given a very sympathetic performance by Joe Dixon. 

Ariel was given a dazzling mercurial performance by Mark Quartley. He had a spiky, bird like hairdo and seemed to be almost always on demi-pointe, poised for flight. With the use of the special effects and his motion-capture bodysuit,  illusion and reality become blurred,  and there seem to be at least at times two of him.

Miranda, Prospero’s daughter , was given an enchanting performance by Jenny Rainsford . Tall, blonde and with regal bearing, she was every inch a princess. Miranda and Prospero argue furiously sometimes and Prospero’s struggle to give her up to Ferdinand comes across clearly.

The masque is suddenly interrupted by an explosive outburst from Prospero yet his awareness of lack of self control and grief is palpable.

Daniel Easton’s portrayal of handsome prince Ferdinand sees him come across a bit ditzy to begin with but his  personality grows on us.

Joseph Mydell’s elegantly spoken patrician Gonzalo is revealed as a shrewd politician who cringes at the racism of his fellow courtiers, whilst Sebastian the would be usurper is portrayed by Tom Turner as a somewhat thick-witted assassin.

Simon Trinder as a darting,Harlequin like Trinculo, and Tony Jayawardena as a power- obsessed Stephano made the rest of the audience laugh but I personally did not find them that funny, though it was great fun when the duo come down to the audience and temporarily borrow one of the audience member’s glasses.

This was a thrilling, very impressive and exciting production.

Running time- allow about 3 hours 15 including interval. The screening also includes behind the scenes interviews.

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of  THE TEMPEST is screening this coming weekend at selected arthouse cinemas.