Philydia Lloyd’s production of The Tempest concludes the all-female trilogy, which will see Julius Caesar and Henry V return to Donmar’s temporary venue at King’s Cross Theatre.
The productions have been set in a women’s prison and whilst I have no issue with gender casting, unlike Ronald Harwood, this feels like a gimmick that doesn’t work. Not because of the fantastic performances and genuinely diverse casting but because you know nothing about these prisoner characters. Harriet Walter’s character Hannah is the only one that explains why she ended up in prison and it is meant to influence how we see her Prospero (as an absent mother to her child she embraces the paternal/maternal role of Prospero to Miranda) but the audience is given nothing else. I am not sure if it is because this is the final production in the trilogy but even so there shouldn’t be an assumption that the audience will be familiar with these productions. I want to know why how these women are approaching these characters and why, otherwise it should be just set in any other middle class amateur dramatics club.
It is a real shame because it is play enriched by its performances, I am not the biggest fan of The Tempest, I felt that the tone changes so much it isn’t always easy to keep with who is who without having to pursue the text but this feels like a really accessible production (two hours, no interval and it was made very clear who was who) and I am glad Donmar are offering free tickets for under 25 as part of their run here but there were aspects of the direction I didn’t like. The wearing of suits, when the women are perfectly capable of playing their masculine roles in their tracksuits, the aspects that were to constantly remind the audience that they were in a prison but there were other simple beautiful touches like the musical performances from Jade Anouka’s Ariel, the simple staging with large balloons and lights under the chairs and some fantastic performances from Karen Dunbar and Jackie Clune as Trinculo and Stephano, who provide much of the comic relief.
For me it was an enjoyable two hours but not an exceptional production because it doesn’t make enough of its interesting setting and when we do get glimpses of prison life it isn’t particularly interesting. Just guards shouting or making appearances as performers exit in and out of halls. Ultimately it is a production that will divide its audience.