Amazing technology makes THE TEMPEST universally understandable.
Although THE TEMPEST at the Barbican Theatre starring Simon Russell Beale closed last month, it's important to recognise its technological innovation.
Jon: This unique version of ‘The Tempest’ was commissioned for the150th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and was first staged last year in Stratford before transferring to the Barbican Theatre this summer for a second run.
Being a techie, I knew from the outset that this show was going to be very interesting to watch, as its special feature is projection and video mapping of ‘Ariel’.
Cat: As an ex-English Literature student, who dropped the A-Level whilst studying Shakespeare’s The Tempest, I came to the performance with a fair amount of scepticism. During the brief period I studied the play I found it difficult to grasp the plot and follow the story. It would be fair to attribute this to the Shakespearean English. Nevertheless, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised!
From the moment I walked into the main auditorium it was hard to miss the staging. The Tempest, as many may know, has only two main scenes, one a ship and the other a remote island. In order to accommodate for both scenes the set was relatively simple, using wooden structures on either side of the stage – which were incredibly effective! The use of Intel technology enabled the structures to become a ship in crisis but also to bring life to the magical happenings of Prospero's island, including his trusted slave ‘Ariel’. A link to a video below give some indication as to the magnificence of the effects.
Jon: The projection was stunning. It was designed by Finn Ross, who was also the designer of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and I definitely felt that there was few elements where you can see this unique style of shock and unease on the audience come through. For example, right as the show opened, the storm scene truly made me jump in my seat, but also uncomfortable is the moment when ‘Ariel’ is up high and is starting to grow angry. The projection was a joint venture between the RSC and Intel to use live video mapping of ‘Ariel’, which was then onto the set. This is something that has never been tried before in theatre and it was very clever. It allowed you to feel like Ariel was superhuman, growing in size and floating. Saying this though, I did feel that the tech was just been used because it was there, rather than to adding to the overall impact of the production. Sitting slightly off-centre, some of the effects were lost due to the angle of my seat. The set, even though it was so simple, it was used effectively for its levels and how the actors interacted with it.
Cat: The other most prominent part of the show was costume which aided characterisation. My brief study meant that I had acquired a somewhat basic understanding of the story, however the costumes and acting enabled me to become immersed in the story and actually enjoy this classic as it should be, rather than battling with the written word. The relationship between ‘Prospero’ and his daughter ‘Miranda’ was strong and heartfelt, an element I lost in the book, whilst I couldn’t help but chuckle at the infatuated ‘Ferdinand’ as he forged an instant romance with ‘Miranda’, despite meeting mere moments earlier. By far the best costume and embodiment of character came from the two unearthly creatures of the play, ‘Ariel’ and ‘Caliban’. Both characters stood out from the cast with Mark Quartley (‘Ariel’) moving nimbly across the stage, which made the special effects of him flying weightlessly and his bizarre costume look… normal. In the same way, Joe Dixon, who played ‘Caliban’, a hideous monster and son of the witch ‘Sycorax’, fully embodied his character. His costume resembled that of a villain from Doctor Who and it would have been easy to just make the character purely comical, however his acting, from his voice work to the animalistic way in which he walked, gave the complex character justice.
Jon: Overall I surprisingly liked the plot, and even laughed. I also enjoyed dissecting the tech, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where it can go in the future. The production still has not converting me to a Shakespeare fan, but I have new appreciation for this production and will continue to go and see new adaptions like this of his work.
Cat: As someone who also has always struggled with Shakespeare, I have nothing but praise for the cast and crew of this interpretation of the classic. It’s a mean feat to bring to life a play as magical as The Tempest, and to make it universally understandable (to even the most clueless of audiences) and I have to say this was accomplished. I would urge anyone to see a Shakespeare play featuring such amazing technology – it truly enhances the performance.
It's a mean feat to bring to life a play as magical as THE TEMPEST, and to make it universally understandable... and I have to say this was accomplished.
5ft 11....yes I'm tall,
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