Tempest, The (3 stars)

The Tempest

Tron, Glasgow, run ended


Forgiveness is perhaps the toughest emotional business we can undertake in life. It must occur in order for us to move on, yet it sometimes takes a strength, proportionate to the offence committed, that’s greater than our resources. In Paddy Cunneen’s production of what’s sometimes called Shakespeare’s retirement play, this element of the piece is to the fore, but perhaps might be more singularly so.

Here, our Prospero (Paul Higgins) is younger than we might expect, a scholar and sorcerer who seems less about clearing up unfinished business as the grave nears than a man with a problem in early middle age. Marooned on his (cleverly realised) island, inhabiting with Miranda (Helen McAlpine) a storage crate from a container vessel, this Prospero seems an executive under stress, complete with tattered suit, barely keeping his Ariel (David Mackay) and Caliban (Paul Blair) under control, while fighting his emotions about his unworthy sibling.

As we might expect with Cunneen there’s a stress on music here, as well as a visually striking design (Jonathon Fensom) to enjoy. Yet beyond his initial theme, there seems to be a desire to open the play up on its many fronts without fully following through all its themes. The political metaphor represented by both the idealistic Gonzalo (a slightly wasted Alison Peebles) and the colonised Caliban, and a succession of dilemmas about age and the subtle differences between compromising and selling out, as well as the possibility that the Tempest concerned is one of the mind and subjectivity are all touched upon but not quite explored. It’s as if Cunneen, finally entrusted with a major production, has tried to do too much with his unquestionable talent. On the up side, there are three splendid performances. Paul Thomas Hickey and Matthew Pidgeon’s Trinculo and Stefano - a pair of soap-dodging wasters who let no comic opportunity pass - double well as Sebastian and Antonio’s New Labour scum too. Meantime, Blair’s overcoated, Care in the Community Caliban is terrific, but perhaps even more admirable is his Ferdinand, a pretty inert sort of Shakespearian suitor, given vitality by a smart performance. Not all the performances are of quite this quality. Still there are some fascinating moments, and no shortage of spectacle here.

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