Another very disappointing evening at the Roundhouse, following Twelfth Night a few days ago. All I can say about David Farr's over-designed and under-acted production is that the phrase 'Shipwreck Trilogy' is starting to look appropriate. Perhaps it's unfair to go into too much detail about a show which I abandoned at the interval.
What it all boils down to in my view is that there are two ways of directing Shakespeare -- or any other dramatist, for that matter. One can either start with the text and the actors and work outwards from the meaning into designing the production. Sometimes very little design is needed, and the audience does the work. That's what I generally prefer. Or, one can start off with a design concept and shoehorn the actors into it, which is the method that seems to apply in most of European theatre, where directors hold sway.
In the programme for The Tempest designer Jon Bausor makes clear he belongs 100 per cent to the second school of thought. There's nary a mention of the actors in his description of how he put together a set largely inspired by a Hokusai print of a breaking wave which used to hang on his bedroom wall. He's also introduced a lot of other elements -- fluorescent tubes, a metal beam, a perspex semi-transparent box, holes in the stage. Very little of any of this has anything to do with Shakespeare's text, in which the designer and director seem to show little interest. The acting is mostly wooden, with a lot of shouting for emphasis, and desperate mugging in the comic scenes. I don't want to blame the actors, because I think the director has tried to weld together too many different ideas and forge links between separate plays which don't really exist. It's not so long since the RSC gave us a superb Tempest with Patrick Stewart; in this one, Jonathan Slinger seems miscast. One of the specific features of this play is that Miranda is the sole female character on the island; but the balance is destroyed in this production by turning Sebastian into a woman.
David Farr is an excellent director in many ways but has gone astray here. I don't want the RSC to sink back into the safe middle ground or to be boring and avoid risk. But I do think it should concentrate a lot less on gee-whiz design and more on acting. Greg Doran's excellent Julius Caesar, which I watched on BBC4 last Sunday, shows how it's done.