Shakespeare writes frequently of imprisonment—from the stocks in which Kent is rudely confined to the oubliette where Malvolio is mocked. Even so, The Tempest ranks high. Prospero (Harriet Walter), Duke of Milan, is banished to an island with his daughter, Miranda (Leah Harvey). He frees the spirit Ariel (Jade Anouka) from the trunk of a tree and educates surly Caliban (Sophie Stanton). Both creatures eventually become his restive slaves. Miranda, meanwhile, longs to escape the tyranny of an overprotective father.
So it makes perfect textual sense for director Phyllida Lloyd to end her trilogy of Shakespeare productions—all-female, all set in women’s prisons—with this magical, melancholy late romance. The climactic act in the play is not one of conjuring or stage illusion (there’s plenty of that) but Prospero’s willed act of forgiveness and retirement.
Co-produced by two warehouses on either side of the Atlantic (St. Ann's and Donmar), this is an effective, well-edited Tempest (105 minutes without intermission), and Walter’s emotionally translucent Prospero—bluff pride exquisitely mingled with shame and penitence—is reason enough to attend. The rest of the youthful, multiracial cast does energetic, appealing work. You may fatuously hope for a messy jail break to end the trilogy, but these women are strong enough to serve their time.
St. Ann’s Warehouse (Off Broadway). By William Shakespeare. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd. With Harriet Walter. Running time: 1hr 45mins. No intermission. Through Feb 19. Click here for full ticket and venue information.