Twitter Facebook RSS Feed
No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Saturday 1st February 2003

The Tempest / The Duchess of Malfi / Road

The Spectator - 1st February 2003

The majority of my colleagues have been going gaga about Michael Grandage's production of The Tempest. According to Charles Spencer in The Telegraph, "This is a production that brings us close to the mysterious heart of Shakespeare's troubled and deeply moving valediction." Alas, I wasn't convinced. It has some good things in it--John Nettleton makes for a wonderfully sympathetic Gonzalo--but overall it struck me as a merely workmanlike production of the play. This Tempest isn't a storm in a teacup, but it's not the category five hurricane I was expecting.

Grandage's reading of the play is that it's Shakespeare's attempt to sum up his own art. Prospero is a stand-in for the great dramatist and just as he gives us one final display of wizardry, so The Tempest is Shakespeare's swansong. Grandage is so intent on getting this across, he even has his set designer, Christopher Oram, frame the play within a proscenium arch. Now, there's nothing wrong with this interpretation, it's just that Grandage presents it as a startlingly original point of view when it's the kind of boilerplate stuff that 14-year-old English GSCE students are taught on their first day of term. I never thought I'd hear myself complain that a Shakespearean production is too conventional--99% of them are far too unconventional--but that's the problem here. This is a Tempest for schoolchildren.

The chief selling point of this production is supposed to be Derek Jacobi's star turn as Prospero and he certainly gives it his all. But I didn't much enjoy his performance. He doesn't bring the part to life, so much as ring it's neck. Watching him, I was reminded of an exchange between George Cukor and Jack Lemmon on the set of a film called It Should Happen to You. After one particular take, in which Lemon felt he hadn't done himself justice, Cukor surprised him by congratulating him. "You mean-you don't want me to act at all?" asked an incredulous Lemmon. "You're beginning to get it," replied Cukor. Unfortunately, Michael Grandage is no George Cukor.

Phyllida Lloyd's production of The Duchess of Malfi, which has just opened at the National, is an altogether superior affair. This is an unapologetically feminist interpretation of the play, portraying the Duchess as a kind of feisty, Germaine Greer character who's suffering arises from her refusal to represses her sexuality. And suffer she does. At the end of the play there are nine corpses on stage, including the Duchess, her lady-in-waiting, her husband and their three children. However, rather than seem like an ideological viewpoint that's been imposed upon the play, this explanation of the Duchess's fate is entirely plausible. In the more backward parts of the world, it's quite common for women to be tortured and murdered for giving in to their sexual desires--often by members of their own families.

The cast is uniformly excellent. Will Keen is both pathetic and menacing as Ferdinand, the Duchess's demented half-brother, and Lorcan Cranitch manages to make Bosola, the spy who betrays her to her enemies, quite sympathetic. But the fulcrum around which this production pivots is Janet McTeer as the Duchess. Once again, I was reminded of a George Cukor film, this time The Philadelphia Story. I'm thinking of James Stewart's speech in which he declares his love to Katherine Hepburn: "There's a magnificence in you, Tracy...A magnificence that comes out of your eyes, in your voice, in the way you stand there, in the way you walk. You're lit from within, Tracy. You've got fires banked down in you, hearth-fires and holocausts." McTeer's performance alone makes this production worth seeing.

I made the mistake of dragging my wife along to see Road at the Lyric Hammersmith, a new production of Jim Cartwright's play that's been specially designed for the space. It was so breath-takingly awful I don't suppose I'll be able to persuade her to come to anything else for the rest of the year. A series of monologues by various depressed casualties of Thatcher's Britain, it was like being stuck in group therapy with a bunch of unemployed Scousers. It reminded me of Boys From the Blackstuff, except without the sympathetic characters, the strong storylines or the witty dialogue. How Road managed to be voted number 36 in the top 100 plays of the 20th Century in a National Theatre poll I'll never know. This is one Road that should remain less travelled.

[ FIXED LINK ] Bookmark and Share

Twitter RT @QuilletteM: From the archives: Author @_HelenDale asks what would have happened if the industrial revolution happened in Rome? link  (1 hour ago)


The shocking truth about Jordan Peterson by Wesley Yang -
The intellectual dark web by Bari Weiss -
How identity politics is harming the sciences by Heather Mac Donald -
The fall of the German Empire by Ross Douthat -
How Tom Wolfe became Tom Wolfe by Michael Lewis - Vanity Fair
The neuro-diversity case for free speech by Geoffrey Miller -
The Age of Outrage by Jonathan Haidt -
The Warlock Hunt by Claire Berlinski -
Is classical liberalism conservative? by Yarom Hazony -
The Implosion of Western Liberalism by Patrick Lee Miller -
The Eton of the East End - Daily Mail
The reactionary temptation by Andrew Sullivan -
The book that scandalised New York intellectuals by Louis Menand -
To understand Britain today, look to the 17th Century by Adrian Wooldridge -
The crisis in France by Christopher Caldwell -
A Visit to Michaela School by Patrick Alexander -
Why parenting may not matter by Brian Boutwell -
Trump Establishment's Cultural Significance Explained by Michael Wolff -
Branching histories of the 2016 referendum by Dominic Cummings -
Putin's Real Long Game by Molly K McKew -
The Flight 93 Election by Publius Decius Mus -
How the education gap is tearing politics apart by David Runciman -
What's wrong with identity politics by Graeme Archer -
Grammars and the grain of truth by Jonathan Porter
Anti-Brexit: Britain's new class war by John O'Sullivan -
The English Revolt by Robert Tombs -
Democracies end when they are too democratic by Andrew Sullivan -
Human beings really are making progress by Steven Pinker -
What ISIS really wants by Graeme Wood -
A society ripe for Submission by Douglas Murray -
Why I'm a Conservative Teacher by Jonathan Porter -
Corbyn's Inconvenient Truth – He wanted the IRA to win -
Why I've become Tory scum by Tony Parsons -
Inside Westminster's free school -
Robert Conquest obit -
Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite – it's so much worse than that -


Andrew Lilico
Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
Bagehot's Notebook
BBC News
BBC Sport
Benedict Brogan
Brendan O'Neill
Bruce Anderson
Coffee House
Conservative Home
Damian McBride
Damian Thompson
Dan Hodges
Daniel Hannon
Ed West
Frank Furedi
Guido Fawkes
Harry Phibbs
Iain Dale
Iain Martin
James Delingpole
James Wolcott
Joe Murphy
John Rentoul
Labour List
Mark Steyn
Matt Drudge
Mehdi Hasan
Melanie Phillips
Michael Wolff
Nick Cohen
Nick Robinson
Nikki Finke
Paul Waugh
Peter Hitchens
Political Betting
Right Minds
Rob Long
Rod Liddle
Sophy Ridge
Stephen Pollard
The Arts Desk
The Corner
The Daily Beast
The First Post
The Omnivore
The Onion
Tim Shipman
Tim Stanley
Tom Shone


AA Gill
Aidan Hartley
Allison Pearson
Allister Heath
AO Scott
Boris Johnson
Charles Moore
Cosmo Landesman
Daniel Finkelstein
David Brooks
Fraser Nelson
George Monbiot
Giles Coren
Henry Winter
James Delingpole
Jan Moir
Janan Ganesh
Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Warner
Jim White
Jonathan Freedland
Lloyd Evans
Manohla Dargis
Martin Samuel
Mary Ann Sieghart
Matthew d'Ancona
Matthew Norman
Maureen Dowd
Michiko Kakutani
Owen Jones
Patrick O'Flynn
Paul Krugman
Peter Bradshaw
Peter Oborne
Philip Collins
Polly Toynbee
Quentin Letts
Rachel Johnson
Rod Liddle
Roy Greenslade
Tim Montgomerie
Trevor Kavanagh
UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • Audio Book Cover

  • Buy the audio book from
    Whole Story Audio
  • DVD Cover

  • Buy the DVD from

  • Buy the DVD from

  • IMdb Page on the film