Review: The Tempest, Dundee Rep

The Tempest at Dundee Rep lurches from one bad idea to another

By Mark Brown

 

It is a truism, bordering on cliché, to say that Shakespeare’s greatest plays   are so universal as to bear an almost infinite array of relocations in time   and place. Gregory Doran’s acclaimed Julius Caesar (currently playing in   Stratford), which moves the drama to contemporary Africa, is a timely   example of the adaptability of the Bard’s work.

   However, to witness this Tempest – by Jemima Levick, the newly appointed   joint artistic director (with Philip Howard) of Dundee Rep – is to be   reminded that relocations of Shakespeare plays can also have catastrophic   results. Levick is an award-winning director with a fine track record, but   her placing of the Bard’s final play on an island strewn with polythene bags   full of rubbish and discarded television sets is nothing short of a disaster.

   If there is a meaning to this representation of the sorcerer Prospero’s   enchanted island (beyond a polemically ecological one about the pollution of   the oceans), the production does nothing to illuminate it. Likewise the   casting of women in the roles of both Prospero and his enslaved islander,   Caliban.

   Irene MacDougall gives a fine performance as the regal wizard, but one that   is quite androgynous and fails meaningfully to explore the possibilities of   the switch of the character’s sex. Ann Louise Ross’s facially disfigured   Caliban is more problematic still: Levick deals with the thorny issue of the   slave’s sexual designs on Prospero’s daughter, Miranda, by all but ignoring   it.

As so often in badly conceived productions, this presentation lurches from   one bad idea to another. When Prospero speaks to the spirit Ariel,   MacDougall’s voice is synthesised, presumably in pursuit of an ethereal   quality, but the rapid shifts in and out of amplification lack technical   subtlety and serve only to irritate. More exasperating still is the moment   in which Emily Winter’s Ariel flies in wearing entirely incongruous wings   which seem to be made (in the style of designer Ti Green’s horrible set) of   ragged plastic.

The production is not entirely without qualities: Jon Beales has composed   some lovely music and Keith Fleming’s high-octane rendering of the drunken   butler, Stephano, swims impressively against the tide.

It is, however, Green’s pointless clutter (MacDougall got her feet caught up   in a bin bag on press night) which defines this production, ensuring that   Levick’s directorship of the Rep gets off to the most disappointing of   starts.

Until June 23

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on June 12, 2012

© Mark Brown

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