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The Tempest: Press reviews

Juliet Rylance in The Tempest
British actress Juliet Rylance plays Miranda in The Tempest

Tony and Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes has unveiled his version of Shakespeare's The Tempest in New York, in the second season of the transatlantic Bridge Project.

Critics are divided on the production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), which stars Stephen Dillane as Prospero, Juliet Rylance as Miranda, and Thomas Sadoski as Stephano.


The overall mood of the entire production is one of almost torpor-like calm. It is full of beautiful effects, but not much dramatic tension. And since it runs at two hours and 25 minutes without an interval, you begin to long for the comic business (broadly played by Thomas Sadoski as the drunken Stephano and Anthony O'Donnell as Trinculo), or for the brief appearances of Juliet Rylance's radiant Miranda.

But then, right at the end, Mendes pulls off a brilliant coup. As Prospero gives Ariel his freedom and breaks his staff, giving up his power and his "rough magic", the light suddenly disappears and the wall is black; the enchantment has literally vanished. This is the grey reality of the real world, of life outside the theatre, away from a place where everything can be resolved.


Dillane's Prospero is a gentle father and scholar, both manipulating and observing the proceedings with a benevolent detachment. It's a contained, thoughtful portrayal that matches Mendes' elemental staging: a circle of sand, a shallow pool. Water and earth, reason and the supernatural, the seen and the unseen convincingly coexist on this island outside of the normal time-space continuum.


Mr Mendes's production makes no radical statements, although Mr Camargo's gothic androgyne, Ariel, is an appealing innovation. With a nightclub pallor, dressed alternately in a sleek, black Jil Sander-ish suit, a slinky evening gown or a winged contraption that recalls the 90s superhero movie The Crow, this Ariel is a more sombre sentinel than the familiar, flitting sprite. It's a fresh, unexpected approach, and Mr Camargo speaks the verse with a cool beauty. Despite a moment of early violent conflict (one of the bits that doesn't quite ring true), Ariel's rapport with Mr Dillane's Prospero is intimate, touching and real.


It takes a director as powerful as Sam Mendes to turn Shakespeare's supremely poetic Tempest into something as deplorable as what the Bridge Company is offering at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. All lyricism is wantonly excised.

Proceeding perhaps from Prospero's late speech, "This rough magic I here abjure," Mendes systematically abjures from the get-go every bit of magic in his dogged destruction.


After a lyrical and airy production of As You Like It, the Bridge Project, Sam Mendes' company featuring British and American artists, continues to dazzle and delight with a gritty yet equally moving mounting of The Tempest.

Most productions emphasize the magical elements of Shakespeare's late tale of the shipwrecked duke Prospero; his daughter, Miranda; his ethereal aide, Ariel; and the monstrous Caliban. Mendes brings the proceedings down to earth and turns what is usually a mystical diversion into a touching family reunion.

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