Press Archive 2001

The Tempest at The Mercury Colchester – Review from The Guardian 28th April 2001

Lyn Gardner

For a few moments the quality of energy in this production is tripled and the whole thing sparks into life. It happens at the very beginning, as the storm starts with a crash of thunder, and at the end, as Ariel takes his leave of Prospero, climbing a ladder to freedom and disappearing into the sky.

The in-between bits are less satisfactory, although Juno’s masque is done in a refreshingly different style, concluding with a wild wedding party. There is also wit in the way that Ferdinand’s travail with the logs is made so much harder by the island’s spirits. And there is something rather neat about the way the supernatural characters such as Ariel are all from the future or our own time, while the human characters are located in a distant past.S

Designer Tim Meacock has done excellent work at this address and initially it looks as if he has come up with a cracker: a sandy area surrounding a bare-boarded rectangle over which hangs a sea-bleached branch. Then he goes and spoils it by dropping a curtain around the back and sides of the stage. You can see what he’s trying to get at – a cloak of magic around the island raised by Prospero’s magic that disappears again when he renounces his powers – but the effect is about as visually interesting as watching a rehearsal in a space with drapes.

What happens on stage has to be more focused to survive this kind of austerity. Quite honestly, what happens on stage has to be much more focused altogether to convey anything much at all to row K in the auditorium. It is like watching a studio production that has been plonked down into a much larger theatre. Like a lot of the production, Gregory Floy’s Prospero is subdued, but Matthew Goode’s Ariel has real presence: a slight, nimble, almost ordinary figure in trainers who, nonetheless, casts a spell across the centuries.

There are some good ideas and performances here, but not enough to make a cohesive whole. It lacks the sense that those involved have a real passion for the play and something to say about it.