He ’s been hailed as Britain’s foremost stage actor, the greatest classical performer of his generation. Simon Russell Beale, white bearded, short and stocky, sits before me now in a booth at Susie’s Café at The Other Place theatre along the river at Stratford-upon-Avon, the morning after a bravura performance up the road at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre as an emotionally affecting Prospero in The Tempest.

Simon Russell Beale as Prospero in  The Tempest . Photo © Topher McGrillis 

Abetted by ground-breaking technological wizardry, Beale was required to engage not only with the sprite Ariel dancing in a motion-capture suit but also alternately with Ariel’s ghostly digital avatars appearing simultaneously on stage. While always keen to stretch himself whatever the challenge, Beale is typically self-effacing in conversation today. The 57-year-old listens intently, intermittently shaking his vaporiser to take an e-cigarette hit, answering in his mellifluous, open, cultivated tone. His discrete exhalations remind me of ‘Ariel’s cloud’ last night, a netting contraption onto which 27 projectors beamed a blue second Ariel, a sea nymph, and a huge half-woman, half-bird harpy.

Beale is coming to the end of conquering all...