Tried last weekend, unsuccessfully, to get a day seat for the Trevor Nunn directed, Ralph Fiennes starring, production of The Tempest at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. The problem is that, as I discovered after an hour and half wait, they've reduced the number of day seats to 9 (and it is one per person). I was 10th in the queue. [insert image of Stan with cat's bum face]
But I tried again on Thursday and ended up front of the line*. So was it worth the effort?
Well at the interval I wasn't sure.
Nunn and his production team have gone traditional. Jacobean costumes, lots of music and dancing and traditional theatrical devices like spirits floating across the stage on wires. There is lots of wire work. Even the set, a derelict theatre, seems traditional.
He has also taken full advantage of having a budget that will stretch to 23 actors including eight spirits (not all on wires at once!) three of which are Ariels, the central Ariel and his divided self.
This traditional approach added to my doubts at the interval. People dancing around in painted body stockings pretending to be spirits and occasionally singing took a bit of getting used to. But it also didn't quite gel at times. The scenes with the courtiers fell a little flat and the comic scenes were funny but not that funny, although Nicholas Lyndhurst's Trincolo and Clive Wood's Stefano will, I'm sure, get better and better as the run progresses. This was the 5th preview performance, press night is Tuesday.
There are some fabulous but simple theatrical devices such as a goddess descending on a rainbow (wires, sheet and clever lighting) and Ariel's appearance as a Harpy is brilliantly done but I won't spoil that one. There is even a bit of 'magic'.
So what of the acting and the man himself, Mr Fiennes? Well I've yet to be wowed by Mr F on stage and I don't think this performance will be the one that changed my mind. He certainly puts in a great deal of effort but that is the problem, it should seem effortless. I think Poly hit the nail on the head when she said that he lacks warmth in his performances, which is why he kills it as Voldemort in the Harry Potter films.
When he is the vengeful Prospero manipulating the elements and people to his own end then he is spot on but I wasn't quite convinced by loving father or the internal struggle which leads him put aside revenge and forgive those who've wronged him.
I did like Elisabeth Hopper's Miranda. It's a difficult character to make convincing, having enough childlike innocence and naivety from her sheltered upbringing but with a hint of something more womanly in order to catch the eye of Ferdinand. I think it helped that Ferdinand (Michael Benz) definitely had an innocent, youthful air about him and that Fiennes' Prospero was quite stern certainly not a father you could imagine being particularly indulgent.
For me it was Ariel, the principal Ariel that is, that stole the show. Whether by design or coincidence Tom Byam Shaw's body stocking with micro mini/shorts over the top gave him an androgynous appearance. And I loved his swept back bouffant hair. He played Ariel beautifully, full of cheeky playfulness but attentive and with nicely darker edges when the occasion called.
So yes, it was worth the 2 hours sat on a cold step outside the Theatre Royal Haymarket to get a day seat. At the interval I would have given it three stars but after seeing the whole thing, I'm going to give it four.
* A note about day seats: There are 9 and it is one per person but they are only £15. I got there two hours before the box office opened and the woman sat next to me got there as it opened - it's a gamble to turn up later but I'm putting the initial rush down to it being the bank holiday weekend.
The stage has an overhang and is virtually in your face - it is tiring on the neck looking up for two and half hours. Choose a seat in the middle of the row if you can, as the row curves towards the stage at either end - those seats at either ends are virtually underneath the stage. Also in the middle you are in a prime spot for when Prospero and Ariel come to the very front of the stage.
Trevor Nunn aside (he directed Mr W in Hamlet at the Old Vic) it seems like half the cast of The Tempest were in Rosenctantz and Guildenstern are Dead (also directed by Nunn) which starred Samuel Barnett who was in Bright Star and His Dark Materials with Mr W. Jim Creighton who plays Adrian was also in Flare Path which starred Sienna Miller who played his girlfriend in Layer Cake. Think that is more than enough.