21 AUGUST 1982, Page 27


Island story

Mark Amory

The Tempest (Stratford) Moliere (The Other Place, Stratford) The Tempest tends to get poor reviews partly because the lines suggest an island so beguiling that no mere set and ac- tors can equal individual imaginings and partly for the bad reason that it is easy to forget the less magical, more ordinary parts. Roving around the island are three distinct groups. As you easily remember, Prospero has been there 12 years with his daughter Miranda, his spirit Ariel and his monstrous slave Caliban. Rather dimmer in the mind are the newly wrecked and bad Italian nobles who have done him wrong in the past and in a rather routine way are plotting to do each other wrong in the pre- sent. Also freshly arrived is the low comedy of drunken servants, Trinculo and Ste- phano. There is no conflict because Pros- pero can do anything.

Ron Daniels's production, designed by Maria Bjornson, minimises these dif- ficulties. The set is a wreck half sunk beneath the boards of the stage, the clothes are pretty, particularly the blue-green ar- mour which invokes the sea as well, the whole bathed in a golden light, reminiscent of an illustration from a book for children and just the right distance from fairy stories and pirates. The three groups are separate but harmonious and this is achieved largely by the actors. Bob Peck easily gives Caliban the strong, not quite threatening, presence required, more a dirty man with a curious Rastafarian beard than a monster. What he also does is to blend in with the knockabout comics with whom in fact he spends most of the evening, getting laughs without betray- ing his strangeness. In passing it is stressed that he is a bastard and that Prospero `acknowledges' him, so is he a swiftly grown son? I had not thought of this before but there are no new ideas to be had on Shakespeare and presumably many a thesis has discussed his parentage. If Alice Krige's fresh Miranda and Mark Rylance's girlish but untiresome Ariel are taken a little for granted it is only because they display quali- ties we already knew they possessed. Derek Jacobi seems to give slightly less than his all. He is neither a sonorously wise old man nor a testy schoolmaster but a wronged duke in his early forties; This is fine and after all true, though the melancholy of the later speeches sits a little strangely on him. Why should his every third thought be of the grave when he gets home? I should have imagined he was more likely to marry again or go hunting. Still it is with these late speeches that Jacobi takes command of the evening as we had been wanting him to do. If I say this is a first-rate rather than a remarkable production, that is not meant to be faint praise; it is the nature of the play that it always leaves you, like Oliver Twist, demanding more.

Moliere's life was full of incident with a dramatic collapse at the end. Mikhail Bulgakov wrote a play about him in 1932 which never quite won official Soviet ap- proval and so was rehearsed for four years and then taken off after seven sold-out per- formances. Dusty Hughes has now written a new version which brings Bulgakov onto the stage as a prologue and a programme note which underlines the parallels between an artist struggling under the tyranny of Louis XIV and under Stalin. Moliere's necessary sycophancy is shown, also the faceless enemies waiting to bring about his downfall, the compromises essential to sur- vival. This doubtless meant much to Bulgakov but it does not really add im- mediacy for us — Stalin too is a figure from history now. What we see is an immensely lively backstage story with duels and mistresses and Derek Godfrey as enjoyable as you would hope as a Louis XIV with gold everywhere including his face and eyelids, so that it is a surprise when the grape he lazily nibbles turns out to be real. There is no attempt at period atmosphere. I am willing to believe that these exciting things happened, but not that they happen- ed like this. Anthony_Sher is in tune with the play in that he is a whirlwind of energy and fun to watch rather than convincing. In a noticeably sharply written piece I cannot imagine how Dusty Hughes saddled an ac- tress with hearty laughter, 'That's a good joke ... ' dawning realisation, then, 'Please tell me it's a joke', followed by hysteria. It is like making composers sit around scratch- ing their heads for inspiration and then suddenly raising one finger, 'I have it' Beethoven's Ninth, No Business Like Show- business, whatever. I have seen both done by hams, I have seen both done by experts and it is just not possible to bring it off.

She Stoops to Conquer is immensely agreeable and efficient, asking little from an audience, giving it much. The language is pleasantly strange but not obscure. Charm- ing young men want to marry charming young ladies as they do, and get the money as well. The only original figure is Tony Lumpkin, a lively country lad who likes a sing-song with the boys in the pub but has no interest in girls. William Gaskill's pro- duction of The Recruiting Officer was so brilliantly successful at finding truth in the characters, sketching in a whole society and so earthing the humour in reality, that he set new standards for old comedies. Here he presents excellent performances, especially from Betty Marsden and Anthony Sharp, that you can easily believe inhabited the same country. There is no cheapness or vulgarity. It is all so estimable that I felt it was low and ungrateful of me to want more laughs, the ones I remember, being pro- voked by broader, perhaps coarser, acting.