The Tempest July 2010

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Together with Winter’s Tale The Tempest is the last play Shakespeare ever wrote – and just like Winter’s Tale it is a story about forgiveness, mellowness, if you want, a calmer view on life in late age. But while in Winter’s Tale  the gods influence the story by protecting both Hermione and her daughter Perdita from almost certain death, in Tempest it is the magic of Prospero that brings the story as well as the fates of everyone involved to fruition with the help of puckish spirit Ariel.

Stratford’s production of the Tempest has been blessed with brilliant actors that lend a new and original view on the characters they play. For instance Julyana Soelistyo: she looks and acts the child-like part of Ariel, but adds the depth of lifetimes of experiences to her portrayal of the charming spirit Ariel. Director Des McAnuff lets her fly and giggle and even sprout wings for one scene and leaves us marveling about the depth of connection the flutterlight impish spirit and mighty Prospero actually have. For Prospero looks out for her almost like a father for his daughter. And speaking of daughters: Trish Lindstrom breathes life into Miranda, who, after twelve years of living alone on an island, the only companion her own father and Caliban, Dion Johnstone, a slave half man half snake with a temper to match and a deep rooted hatred for Prospero in his heart, finally blooms into maturity thanks to the love she feels for her prince. That said, Ms Lindstrom is the weakest of the performers (or I caught her on a really bad day a couple of times) – and still she is doing a marvelous job; it’s just incredibly hard to hold one’s own next to such terrific counterparts…

But it is of course Christopher Plummer (a walking standing ovation these days, as one commentator stated in his review) who IS the play, who captures Prospero’s fate and life with just a turn of his head, a wink of his eye. It’s in his body language as much as it’s in Shakespeare’s words and it is brilliant to see on an almost empty stage that lets the magic happen. The way Plummer interacts with the cast, the way he interprets the words, discovers and unveils the character for us left me stunned and amazed in all three shows I saw.

Plummer’s voice is rich with passion, soft with love and fierce with rage and power and it sweeps you right into the world he and Shakespeare create for the audience. Words, in the end, fail me.

But there’s also Stephano and Trinculo, the drunken servant and the yammering jester, who steal the scenes whenever they are on stage. Both Geraint Wyn Davies and Bruce Dow own the parts and have the audience roaring with laughter and finally applauding when they leave the stage. Wyn Davies’ thick scottish accent is just an added bonus to his brilliant antics when he discovers the “four legged beast” (the beast with two backs?) covered in an old rag. His comedic timing is just amazing, he feeds off Bruce Dow’s helplessly gay and frustrated jester and vice versa. Both men excel in their craft and turn their scenes into hilarious displays of vanity and stupidity and even a glimpse of grandeur when Stephano (Wyn Davies) finally seems to come to terms with the fact that he might just be king-material after all. There is a short moment where a noble heart shines through a very drunk exterior and it makes you want to believe in him for just a little while…

The play ends with Prospero’s monologue in which he states his project was to please and please he did indeed. Every show I saw ended in triumphant standing ovations, a small thank you for a brilliant cast and direction.

Needless to say I adore that play! It’s definitely one of the major highlights of this season in Stratford and creates the most beautiful and amazing magic on stage thanks to a truly exceptional cast.

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I also was able to observe the second day of filming the Tempest and it was an eye opener in many ways. Of course the filming itself was not that interesting, just a few close ups in scenes that hadn’t been captured on tape during the ongoing recording of the play during the afternoon performances. But the way all the actors and of course Christopher Plummer handled the camera was really enlightening. One minute Plummer was just an old man, tired, cold and even a bit grumpy. Then someone ordered Okay! and he was ON in the blink of an eye, in the turn of a head. Really amazing to witness.

Plus all of the cast was incredibly friendly with fans – Bruce Dow for instance was at the filming, and hadn’t slept much from last night’s performing and the morning appointment of his meet the theatre, and yet, when a 16 year old aspiring actor came to talk with him, he took the time, joked with him and invited him onto his facebook page for help. I am very much looking forward to seeing him next season.

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