This was probably THE most shakespearean Shakespeare I’ve seen to day. It was brilliant and it was fun and it was icredibly well played. So let’s start at the beginning:
Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru has a long standing tradition of playing Welsh theatre in Wales – and this time they had The Tempest translated into the very musical yet somewhat harsh language of the Ll and dd 😉 And even though my understanding of Welsh doesn’t go further than “cheers”, “thank you” and “good day” (on a good day LOL) I was perfectly fine and able to follow the play even without the subtitles they provided on the second day I saw it.
But not only was the language’s melody absolutely fitting for Shakespeare’s text, the play also profitted from some necessary cuts as it was brought to stage without an intermission. And what a stage it was: In Carmarthen, where I had the pleasure of seeing it, the play took place in a tent, the visitors on makeshift banks, the actors performing on sand – very apt for a shipwreck and an enchanted island.
Outstanding was the work of choreographer and movement director Liz Ranken – she turned people into the sea – and an angry sea at some points -, into a ship, a breeze, a storm, and into fairies and spirit beings without using any distracting costumes or much make-up – dressed in black and white, their movements made clear what was going on from the get-go. Obviously ballet-trained actors dangling from lush white swaths of fabric added not only a circensical but also a magical quality to a play about the magic of forgiveness in a magical world.
And a little bit of circus came into play when Prospero gives his daughter to the first man she saw and fell in love with – artists playing with fire and other circensic elements provided by Citrus Arts took that scene to a new and magical level of theatrical experience.
Let’s just not forget the actors: Prospero Llion Williams is marvellous in his struggle to seek revenge or forgive his family for casting him into exile with his baby daughter – and only a book of magic his companion. That they survived at all is largely thanked to the spirit of the island, Ariel, Meilir Rhys Williams, whose mastery of the part is amazing. He manages to bring together both the very physical aspect of his spirit existence and the almost naive, childlike joy of finally being freed of the forced ties that bind him to Prospero. And then there’s Caliban. I saw the Tempest in Stratford ON a few years back and they had turned the son of the powerful witch into an almost reptilian creature, stripped of a lot of his actual text, making him into a slithering hissing danger that must be enslaved. What a change to this interpretation: here Caliban, played by Kai Owen, is a savage – with no attachments other than his now dead mother -, a dangerous bully who takes what he wants and yet – a human being that might benefit from forgiveness and is not beyond hope. I have to admit that while I appreciated the rather tight coverall Dion Johnstone had to wear in Ontario I liked the current interpretation better – not only did Kai Owen have the chance to show off his wide range of acting skills, he also – and with only little help from the make-up-department that gave him fake teeth and dirt, lots of dirt – turned into an incredibly scary creature without having to resort to fancy costuming. I’m not downtalking the Stratford version, I just think that the stark, almost prop-free adaption of The Tempest I saw in Carmarthen was much more riveting maybe because it was mostly stripped to the basics.
For more try this link to facebook for photos of the production.