The Tempest- Shakespeare by the Bow- Theatre Calgary

 

images-5

Written by William Shakespeare

Adapted by Andrew Joseph Richardson

Directed by Diane D’Aquila

Playing in Prince’s Island Park from June 23rd to August 16th.

This is a FREE  performance.

 

Crossing the Bow River on a beautiful summer’s day into Prince’s Island Park, the shadows of the sky scrapers diminish and we step into the dreamworld of The Tempest the while bathing in glorious late-afternoon sunshine. What better way to enjoy what many regard as Shakespeare’s love letter, and fond farewell, to the theatre world; his last great work as a solo playwright.

You immediately feel like the stuff that dreams are made on as you descend the grassy hill, spreading a blanket, and stretching out before the simple scene amongst the trees. Our players are plainly dressed in smocks from an old trunk surrounded by mountains of books piled up pell-mell, and their laughter encourages us to leave our world behind and follow them into a Narnia-like wonderland of strange creatures, powerful sorcerers, beautiful maidens, and shipwrecked sailors.

Diane D’Aquila’s sensitive and playful direction supports and engenders equally sensitive performances throughout this enchanting ninety minute journey around a magical island in the sea. Ariel, played by the spritely and energetic Charlie Gould, tells us how she has orchestrated the shipwreck of Ferdinand’s father’s vessel as she dunks an antique toy ship in a tub of water, squealing with delight as she recounts to her mistress Prospera (Bobbi Goddard) that not a soul perished and all have found their way safely dotted around the island. Everything is going perfectly to plan and when her toil is through, Ariel has been promised her freedom.

The choice to play Propero, a Duke exhiled to this island for his obsessive magical dabblings, as female Prospera is not a new one, but Goddard lives up to the standard set by Meryl Streep in Julie Taymor’s 2010 film, the most recent and recognizable `example of a woman in this male role. As much as the action focusses on his redemption from being wrongly cast out of his dukedom, the real fulcrum of Prospero’s story is the legacy he leaves his daughter Miranda (Tiffany Deobald).

It is for the sake of her happiness that he shipwrecks Ferdinand and brings him ashore as a pre-approved suitor for his daughter, and it is for her that he ultimately sacrifices his supernatural powers. So looking at the role as that of a parent, the gender swap allows us to explore a single mother’s struggle to build a life for her and her daughter away from a volitile patriarchy that has condemned her thirst for knowledge and power. Cast out of society, she builds her own on the island in hopes of someday giving her daughter what she considers to be the best chance at happiness.

Goddard has the larger than life presence necessary to bring this strong-willed and complex character to life as she storms around her island with her magical staff in hand, an impressive cloak fashioned of book pages billowing behind her. Her slave Caliban (Ahad Mir) is the only true native of the island, as Ariel is a sprite belonging only to the ether, and he appears in long tentacle-like shackles that obscure and be-monster his appearance. He has not been kindly used by his mistress and he appeals to the audience that she came ashore and stole the island from him, killing his sorceress mother Sycorax. Upon meeting our delightfully drunk clown-like sailors Trincula (Christina Muldoon) and Stephano (Andrew Merrigan), who he perceives to be gods, Caliban vows to make them rulers of the island if they can strike down Prospera and aid his revenge. Muldoon and Merrigan are obviously not up to any violent ovethrow as they bumble around the island with charming comedic ability.

The spare use of props such as Ariel’s splendid bubble machine, Prospera’s magical staff and voluminous book page cloak, and Trincula and Stephano’s flasks of booze give us just enough to allow our imaginations to open up and fill the entire glade. This unencumbered approach to minimize theatre “stuff” is a very welcome change from the innumerable over produced, over priced, over stimulating shows which try to lure us in with shiny props, pretty costumes, mammoth sets and other unecessaries that all too often take away from the story rather than contribute to its telling. Here, in the park, we are able to focus on our players and the story they’re welcoming us to share with them.

I call them players rather than actors, not only because that is Shakespeare’s word, but because they were masters at doing just that- playing! Beautiful, funny, and touching performances sprung from their combined energies playing with one another, with the text, and most importantly with us the audience. This is the highest accolade I could give any group of young performers because it takes skill, openness, incredible creative sensitivity and boundless trust in yourself and your fellow players to yeild the best possible experience for those in the audience and onstage each and every performance.

And I would be amiss if I failed to mention that the entire cast are recent graduates from around the province. They all have different levels of experience, but most of them are quite young and already they have a mature understanding of Shakespeare and theatre craft that eclipses many if not all of the professional productions I have seen in Alberta this year.

The Tempest is an extrarodinarily special play for Shakespeareans, for all theatre folk. Two of Shakespeare’s fellow actors, John Heminges and Henry Condel, compiled The First Folio of 1623 years after Shakespeare’s death in 1616, and The Tempest was the first work they set down, believing it to be vital in conserving Shakespeare’s legacy. Both Heminges and Condell had worked with Shakespeare in the theatre and their work on The Folio was obviously a labour of love. The Tempest is the first entry and therefore the most accurate- copying foul and fair papers, aka Shakespeare’s illegible scribblings, can get tiring so as one goes through the folio, works become a bit sloppier. This particular play was obviously deeply loved by Shakespeare, and his colleagues moving tribute allows us to feel the power of this incredible work.

Indeed, as the performance came to an emotional close, the actors seemed overcome with the power of Prospero’s famous speech- “ These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air”. Our clue from Shakespeare regarding his retirment comes a few lines later- “the great globe itself, Yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve”, which may refer to Shakespeare’s Globe theatre where his time with the King’s Men was drawing to a close after a long career together.

It is in these lines, more than any other play in the canon, where we can hear Shakespeare’s voice ringing true as a bell through the mists of time and straight to our hearts; not masked by his characters or his subject or which monarch he is writing to please, but rather his honest and bare soul being offered to us the best way he knew how.

When you hear his voice come through these young players, the erie warmth of that connection to The Bard is deeply cherished by those fortunate enough to speak them, and we are equally rich receiving them. Their poignance has not failed to move these players or their audiences and we all stood there on the grass as if waking from the most beautiful shared dream.

The performance is free- I urge you to see it as soon as you can. Bring as many people with you as possible, and donate generously to this incredible show.

The Tempest runs in Prince’s Island Park from June 23rd to August 16th. This is a FREE  performance.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s