The Tempest – Virtual Reality Takes to the Stage

There is an interesting look to the RSC’s latest production. The Tempest is the first lucky recipient of Shakespeare’s plays to become immersed in the world of live motion capture effects. With the help of the award-winning Imaginarium Studios (they who brought Golem to life in The Lord of the Rings), director Gregory Doran seeks to bring this classic play to life on stage as never before. His choice of source material is apt given the magical powers of its protagonist, Prospero, and the mysticism of the island upon which he resides with his daughter Amanda (Jenny Rainsford), slave Caliban (Joe Dixon), and the spirit Ariel, played by Mark Quartley. The latter is fitted with a specially-designed suit that allows for his movements to be tracked, and transformed into a pixelated vision on a large screen backdrop. In terms of graphical quality, it is like watching a video game from the age of the Playstation 2. However, do not mistake this for criticism. This is a bold and innovative approach by the RSC. As with anything new, it is going to be a little rough around the edges. To some extent, it worked. They are to be admired in their attempts at portraying the magical powers of Simon Russell Beale’s Prospero. In the beginning, perhaps they are a little too eager, attempting to use these technological advancements at every opportunity. Yet come the second half, there is the perfect balance. Towards its conclusion, the special effects perfectly compliment the acting genius of Russell Beale, drawing out a depth of emotion that is so captivating, the silence in the packed theatre was deafening. To this extent, I think perhaps the way forward with CGI in theatre is not to overstate its use; rather, to utilise it in such a way as to enhance the experience that live performance already offers. The Imaginarium Studios team did achieve that at times here. For its maiden outing, it was by no means a disaster. It is early days, but the signs look promising. Here’s to further technological developments for this most physical of art forms.

Originally created as part of Venue Cymru’s Young Critics scheme

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