Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Tempest

"O brave new world."

I never realized the irony in those words until I saw them spoken by innocent Miranda when she first sees Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian, all guilty of treacherous behaviour.

The play, mounted this summer by Two Planks and a Passion, a small theatre company in rural Nova Scotia, is a wonderful choice for an outdoor performance.

The setting is both airy and intimate. The stage is a small patch of ground, yet later expands to a size far greater than any indoor theatre. The wings are tall grass and players enter from all directions. Often they are close enough to touch, yet other times they pop up unexpectedly from the greenery, or can be seen cavorting merrily in the distance.

The play gets off to a slow start due to an understandable decision to skip the first scene, which takes place on board a storm-tossed ship. Thus the weight of the opening is borne by windy Prospero and patient Miranda, but once the backstory is gotten out of the way and the other characters appear, the performance overflows with energy.

Prospero halts Ariel in her tracks with a wave of his hand, and tumbles her about with a twist of his fist. Ariel plays tricks on those from the ship with gusto, particularly in the scene where she puts words into the mouth of Trinculo.

The stagecraft just gets better and better as the play proceeds. The props, almost entirely of driftwood, are suddenly brought to life when wielded by the cast to suggest the magical beings inhabiting the island. At a time when movies are over-burdened with special effects, it is wonderful to see such magic created before a natural green screen.

Prospero commands the audience's attention with his powerful voice, by making repeated eye contact with audience members, and even by joining them in the bleachers.

Ariel's singing and catlike performance add zest to the play. Her expressive mobile face is a delight to watch.

Caliban too is an audience favourite. He is Ariel's opposite number, his earthy animal nature suggested by a muddy face and furry vest. The low comedy provided by him and his drunken conspirators, Trinculo and Stephano, generates much laughter.

Miranda has the necessary sweet innocence, while Ferdinand carries off an amusing sight gag that reveals the state of his arousal.

Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian are portrayed by women, necessitating slight name changes, thus becoming Alonsa, Antonia, and Sebastia. (In Julie Taymor's film version, Prospero became Prospera. Can Caliba be far behind?)

The costumes of the nobles are especially good, suggesting Medieval glamour with a touch of steampunk, and contrast nicely with Prospero, who is dressed like a peasant and goes barefoot throughout the play.

 If you're in the vicinity there are still a few days left to catch the play.