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Cheek By Jowl: The Tempest

Review of The Tempest at the Silk Street Theatre
Cheek By Jowl: The Tempest
Shakespeare in Russian sounds like someone’s school days nightmare. Far from it: Cheek by Jowl’s The Tempest at the Barbican is such stuff as dreams are made on. Declan Donnellan’s powerful production features a Prospero (Igor Yasulovich) barely able to control his rage at his reduced circumstances and struggling to master an innate appetite for vengeance.

Caliban, Prospero and Miranda have spent a decade and more alone on the island and Donnellan fully explores the effects of such a lengthy seclusion from civilisation. Miranda, so often a blushing, boarding school virgin, is played (by Anya Khalilulina) as a feral creature filled with rage and joy; torn between wonder and lust for her newfound Ferdinand and an instinctive, heartrending bond with childhood playfellow Caliban; whose abandonment on the island with only Ariel for company gives the production its unusually chilling ending.

Presented without an interval, the play comes in at a trim two hours and it feels even faster on a simple, uncluttered set of three doorways in a backdrop that serves as a screen for the judicious use of digital projection. I cannot comment on the translation but the action on stage is so compelling that there is often no need to glance up at the strategically placed subtitle screens on either side. Live music is provided by the ensemble cast with a nod to Soviet era propaganda.

It is 50 years since Vladimir Nabokov’s eponymous hero Pnin first taught his college class that Shakespeare was much more moving “in the original Russian”. Go to the Silk Street Theatre for 19.15 any night this week and you may find yourself agreeing with him.

Performance time: 19:15 (also 14:00 on 16 Apr)
Silk Street Theatre
The Barbican
020 7638 8891

David Trennery

Tuesday 12 April, 2011

About the author

David Trennery is a free-lance writer.