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