‘The Tempest’ review

Theatre, Shakespeare
3 out of 5 stars
The Tempest, Jermyn Street Theatre
Photograph: Robert Day

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

A somewhat so-so fringe Shakespeare is lifted by the veteran Michael Pennington, magnificent as an ailing Prospero

William Shakespeare’s final – and possibly weirdest – play is set mainly on a far-flung island. Its main character, Prospero, is a sorcerer, one of his companions is a sprite named Ariel, and its title refers to a conjured storm. Especially when compared to his weighty history plays, this is Shakespeare in fantasy mode, his Jacobean toe-dipping in the waters JRR Tolkien and others would fully dive into centuries later.

Tom Littler’s production for the pint-sized Jermyn Street Theatre hints at the mythological storytelling elements of the play by opening the show in a room lined with rows of books, wooden carvings and an old-fashioned toy boat with handkerchief sails. When Prospero (Michael Pennington) and his daughter Miranda (Kirsty Bushell) first start talking, it could easily be the set-up for an expanded storytime, in which the grave Pennington simply narrates the whole piece from the comfort of his study.

The inspiration for the production, in fact, is the artist Paul Gauguin’s travels in Tahiti, although you wouldn’t necessarily know that from simply watching it (perhaps a good thing, given how hugely problematic Gauguin’s output from his Tahitian period is). Instead, the whole thing plays out as a largely traditional, albeit small-scale, staging of the story. The only really notable part is how foregrounded Whitney Kehinde’s Ariel – and her relationship with Prospero – is. Her role in thwarting Prospero’s enemies and controlling the run of events often makes her a more significant character than Bushell’s girly, swooning Miranda.

There are several passages that really don’t land and the overall quality isn’t great, but the main draw of the production is – let’s be honest – Pennington. And each time he nails the later scene speeches of an ailing-but-still-powerful Prospero – and shows why it’s arguably the best older male role in Shakespeare after King Lear - it makes sitting through the not-so-good bits worth it.

By: Rosemary Waugh

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