With its catastrophic shipwreck, ‘tricksy’ sprites and creeping music, The Tempest is the ideal Shakespeare play on which to cast some CGI wizardry.
The visuals, created by Finn Ross and Imaginarium Studios in collaboration with director Gregory Doran, are immediately spellbinding and befitting of The Barbican’s expansive, almost filmic stage.
In the famous opening thunderstorm, flashes of lightning shake around the hull of an enormous skeletal ship, simulating a sickly swaying effect as Alonso’s royal party are buffered by stormy seas. When the ship is eventually overturned, a cloth unfurls from above as a tiered whirlpool, projecting holograms of sailors sinking gently to the sea’s depths.
The descent of the divine in Act IV is just as dazzling, as a kaleidoscopic cornucopia of flowers accompany Simon Spencer’s spectacular lighting and ambrosial soprano singing to convey Ferdinand and Miranda’s sense of sublime wonder.
This digital magic neither detracts nor distracts from the play’s substance. Rather, the focus on spectacle enhances Shakespeare’s poetry and themes: not only his fascination with the then taboo subject of spells and charms, but also his self-conscious meditations on the illusions of theatre.
The acting is marvellous too, with Simon Russell Beale conjuring a magisterial yet pitiable Prospero, assisted by Mark Quartly’s excellent, dignified Ariel, whose nimble, balletic onstage movements are thrown onto a big screen in a fantastical wash of pixels thanks to a motion-capture body suit.
When writing The Tempest, Shakespeare was mindful of utilising the latest stage machinery offered by the newly designed Blackfriars Theatre. Correspondingly, Gregory Doran’s production embraces modern technological innovations to ensure the play is still as ‘wondrous strange’ as it was 406 years ago.
Featured image: Topher McGrillis.