The Tempest

The Tempest ★★★★½

Name another production where you get to see Ariel rocking a barrister’s wig made of actual tampons. 

I’ll wait.

Really, though: I loved this so much. 

Phyllida Lloyd absolutely sells the frame narrative of setting the performance in a women’s prison. The company’s five-year development process working with incarcerated women brings so much additional nuance and emotional heft to Shakespeare’s meditation on power, freedom, illusion, and forgiveness.

I watched the National Theatre‘s Twelfth Night with Tamsin Grieg as a gender-flipped Malvolia earlier this year and it was delightful, but the Donmar Tempest got me thinking about the difference between a production where certain roles are deliberately flipped vs. a uniformly-gendered cast. The carceral setting renders the latter a necessity, which allows the question of gender to actually fade from awareness. The ensemble all bring such range to bear on their roles that I can just sink into the characters—their loves, their losses, their fears. There’s a layer of social faffing about that’s just absent. It all feels more immediate.

Contains several moments of stagecraft that gave me whole-body chills (even translated through film). And, of course, the obligatory Quarantine Weeping upon seeing Miranda caressing an audience member and crying "O brave new world, that has such people in it!” I imagine this is what we’ll all be doing if we’re ever allowed back into a physical venue en masse.

From a technical production standpoint, there were a few instances where the interspersed Go-Pro footage felt forced, but they were rare. Overall I thought the film crew did an amazing job of bringing out the performances and heightening the design and staging choices. Getting to see the intricacies of Harriet Walter’s face as she wrings every ounce of pathos from Prospero’s arc was a gift.

I’ll definitely be going back to catch the first two productions when they’re all up for streaming next weekend. St. Ann’s Warehouse has the details if you want to binge them all.

P.S. Miranda collapsing face-first into a pile of literal garbage so she can yell “AT MINE UNWORTHINESS” when Ferdinand asks “Wherefore weep you?” is great. The end.

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