Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Tempest on film by the RSC in Newcastle

Three of the four cultural events in this piece cover great works of art while fourth says much about contemporary western society.

The first is The Tempest believed to be one of the comedies created by William Shakespeare an which I experienced as a stage play by the Royal Shakespeare Company on the 19th of November 1985 at the Theatre Royal Newcastle and again on Sunday May 20th 2012 as a film first released at the end of 2010 and to the credit of Sky added to their anytime films this weekend.

I remember little of the RSC production, except that Alfred Burke previously known to me from a TV detective series, participated, from the programme as Gonzalo the honest Counsellor and which also revealed that James Purefoy was Ferdinand the son of the King of Naples and Melanie Thaw (daughter of John) played Miranda the daughter of Prospero.

I very much enjoyed the film which has Dame Helen Mirren playing the Prospero, the Duke of Milan as Prospera, and a twist which made the story a more convincing one. The film kept to the text is all other respect except that it omitted the play within a play at the end, a device also used in the recently seen and reported Taming of he Shrew which I can confirm was seen in Newcastle at the Theatre Royal in 1988 and also in Oxford by a college company on the lawn on a flying visit when to be researched. Brian Cox played Petrucio in the 1988 RSC production together with Alex Jennings and Fiona Shaw (now CBE who became internationally known as Harry’s aunt Petunia Dursley in five of he Harry Potter films.

The Tempest film also brilliant portrayed the sprite Aerial and used the latest CGI to provide the conjuring tricks of the Prospera as the Sorceress. I thought the film was made brilliantly accessible to contemporary audiences and the casting of Russell Brand as Trinculo, the court jester and Alfred Molina as the alcoholic Butler. Tom Conti is Gonzallo the  old Counsellor.

The Duke of Milan and her daughter Miranda is cast adrift in an open boat by her young brother who wanted the title for himself.  She lands on an island where the native creature strong man  and work horse Caliban shows her how to survive and where she develops he skills as a sorceress freeing the sprite Ariel  from imprisonment in a tree. Both become her servants although Aerial is promised freedom for his role in bringing the King of Naples, his son, the king’s brother together with the current Duke of Milan and the Counsellor ashore after using  magic to create a great sea and fire leading to the ship appearing to be destroyed and the crew and passengers being tossed into sea and drowning.

The sight of
this upset the daughter who  since childhood and known no other experience of living with her mother, ignorant of her background and without experience of men. The idea of man being able to bring up a baby  girl as  a normal young woman is not as good as the original, understandable  for a time when young boys played the female roles. Mother reassures her daughter that all are safe and coming ashore as well as the ship which unscathed has been brought to a safe harbour. The Kings, his son and court had been to North Africa for the daughter of his marriage and father and son each believed  the other had perished on reaching the shore. Similarly Trinculo is  alone and encounters Caliban  and in turn they are found together by Stephan the Butler in a genuinely humorous diversion during which Caliban gets drunk, considers Stephano a God and swears allegiance to him breaking away from Prospera,

Prospera has three objectives  which she achieves. The first is for she and her daughter to be able to leave the Island. The second is to regain her rightful place as Duke if Milan and he treachery of her brother to be recognised and thirdly, on finding the son of the King to be a fine young man, that her daughter should marry him.

Before achieving her goals  she uses Ariel to stop  the King’s brother and her own from murdering the King and his Counsellor taken power for themselves believing the son is dead and the daughter  married and out of the way and then to put the fear of the devil into them before containing the foursome in a circle so they can be confronted with the truth and father introduced  to her daughter and give his blessing to the marriage. She also gives Caliban and the others good fright before abandoning him to live alone on the Island after freeing the sprite. I decided not to read the long  final section of  play within a play. So I do not know if its absence undermined the original concept but as a film I am sure the cutting contributed to its success and effectiveness just a Coriolanus experienced earlier in the year.

I first experienced Coriolanus in Newcastle in 1990 with Charles Dance as Coriolanus and Babara Jefford his mother. Joe Melia played Junius Brutus

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