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Such stuff as dreams are made of

Jessica Rhodes as Miranda, Imogen Slaughter as Earth, and Joseph Payne as Ferdinand. Photo by Ikin Yum©RSC

The Tempest, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford. Runs until 4 March.

Review by Peter Walters

If we are, as Shakespeare has it, 'such stuff as dreams are made of'’ then there are plenty of wonders awaiting us in this new RSC production of what's believed to be his final play.

The tale of a powerful leader, Prospero, rightful Duke of Milan, who's been usurped, is bent on revenge, but finally hands out forgiveness by the barrel-load, seems to be the default plot of about half of the great man's plays, And the fact that here, for the first time at the RSC, the Duke is played by a woman, the admirable Alex Kingston, changes nothing.

Yet this is a production that blends truly magical spectacle with genuine menace, high comedy with dazzling sorcery, all played against a set that even exceeds the RSC's customary lofty standards. Set and costume designer Tim Piper deserves a special accolade – and got one from a wildly enthusiastic audience.

Alex Kingston as Prospero and Heledd Gwynn as Ariel. Photo by Ikin Yum©RSC

In truth, Prospero is not one of Shakespeare's great starring roles, spending long stretches of the play offstage and with few memorable speeches. Alex Kingston, though, looked and sounded every inch the part and was supported by a highly watchable cast, of whom, for me, Heledd Gwynn as a wonderfully agile and multi-skilled Ariel, Jamie Ballard as chief villain Antonio and Cath Whitefield and Simon Startin as the pair of drunken fools, Trinculo and Stephano, stood out.

Director Elizabeth Freestone has declared that her production takes its inspiration from the climate emergency and there are nods in that direction, notably a plastic litter pick on stage that draws in audience involvement. But it's done with humour and subtlety and does not feel shoe-horned into the action.

If spectacle too is 'such stuff as dreams are made of’ then this is a feast.

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