The Tempest

by Lynn on June 26, 2010

in Archive,Picks & Pans

Stratford Shakespeare Festival

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival has been hyping its production of Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST with great fanfare starring Christopher Plummer. Our theatre critic Lynn Slotkin was at the opening and now fresh from her vacation, she’s here to tell us if all the hype was worth it.

Hello Lynn. For those a bit rusty on their Shakespeare what’s THE TEMPEST about?

Prospero was The duke of Milan at one time. But 12 years before, his evil brother deposed him, took over the dukedom and banished Prospero and his then three year old daughter Miranda to a small land.

Prospero has two helpers: Ariel, who is a dainty spirit, and Caliban, who lives under the earth and does the grunt work. Prospero has always been interested in magic and over the 12 years in exile perfects his magical powers. He conjures the tempest that opens the play, that coincidentally brings all those who did him wrong to his island to face him and get their comeuppance.

It sounds like a play about revenge.

Prospero is furious alright. When he tells Miranda the story of how they got to the island, Prospero has 12 years of festering anger that erupts in his telling of the story. But rather than being a play about revenge, it’s really a play about forgiveness, retribution, love and acceptance. This is a play from a mature Shakespeare who wrote it in his later, mellower life.

Prospero goes through a long journey, from anger to forgiveness in this deep, complex play. It is a play of consequence but also has wit, farcical moments and lots of magic. And certainly the director, Des McAnuff is adept at creating moments that startle and dazzle. There are a lot of vivid images in this production.

Such as?

I have never seen the Stratford Festival stage used as technically as in this production. The set revolves. There are many trap doors of various sizes that reveal and hide characters and action. Parts of the set rise, tilt and dip.

At the beginning of the production a creature of sorts in a ghost-grey form fitting body suit slowly dives down from the flies, arms gracefully waving back and forth, and legs kicking, as if in water, swims down to a large book illuminated at the bottom. The creature picks up the book, walks off and then the play proper begins with the raging tempest.

Sounds impressive.

It was. The problem is that the dazzling image has nothing to do with the play. That character is introduced soon after that. It’s Ariel, Prospero’s dainty spirit. The whole image of her swimming down is ludicrous. Her name is ARIEL, not Flipper. And she is diving down to something that shouldn’t be there in the first place, namely Prospero’s magic book. What’s it doing there? Did he lose it? I don’t think so.

Unfortunately this production is full of dazzle for its own sake with no connection to the play. It makes the production shallow, and disjointed. I thought the pace of the production was glacial. The set moved quicker and more often than the production.

Surely a production starring Christopher Plummer has acting fireworks.

Yes, absolutely. Plummer is a powerhouse actor. Here is an actor who is a colourful, vibrant, even lively Prospero. We see the anger and seething rage. But there is also humour, even impishness, which I think is an interesting choice. After his quick moment of rage, it gives way to a twinkling humour. This Prospero seems to enjoy manipulating all the people on the island, doing his bidding. So rather than Prospero having a long journey through the play, it’s more like a little jaunt… Prospero-lite.

Doesn’t a powerhouse performance make up for your disappointment with the rest of the production?

No, nor should it. Attention to detail that realizes the play, creating a coherent, cohesive production that serves the play, and going deeper than superficial, are not strong points in Des McAnuff’s direction , I’m finding again and again. The result is yet another McAnuff production that is shallow and inconsistent that relies on techno-dazzle to make up for the lack consistency and depth. But at the end, there was Plummer alone on a bare stage, speaking the glorious words of Shakespeare, gloriously and with brains. And that was magic, without the techno dazzle that diluted this production. I just wish the rest of the production rose to that level.

Thanks Lynn. THE TEMPEST continues at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.