“A turbulent Tempest: noisy and exciting, amusing and drunken.”
… and why not set The Tempest atop a deep water oil platform? If Shakespeare didn’t have a geo-political imagination by 1610, which is doubtful given Othello on Cyprus and the exotic confusions of Pericles, he would have by now. Natural gas from the Tamar field off southern Israel has been on the market since March last year. Gonzalo’s resourceful prayer for ‘an acre of barren ground’ rather than ‘a thousand furlongs of [raging] sea’ is set spinning.
Then, unsurprisingly, there’s the issue of sovereignty. Whose ‘island’ is it? Prospero’s or Caliban’s? Israel’s or Palestine’s? It will be contentious and tricky for sure, which is where this EUSC production would set us down, somewhere off Tunis reckons Shakespeare, but the Magnus field, north-east of Shetland, would do just as well. Trinculo, a cod Italian, can wish to be in England but BP says it will continue to invest in Scotland.
There are two small red navigation lights on the installation. Why set low-down, I wondered? Anyhow, they pulse quietly away and are quietly reassuring as action succeeds action, bizarre encounter by bizarre encounter.
The stormy opening is terrific: a pounding beat drowns out air traffic comms. as the crew bring down the sails. Speech is lost to the wind but that’s a director’s license for you. So too, I guess, the decision to equip Prospero with an aluminium pole for a staff. I guess at its metal but it looked pretty unbreakable to me, even with his potent art. You should believe that magic cloak, book, and staff, are given up or else the grave Prospero’s quiet retirement to Milan will be the stuff of The Dark Knight Returns.
First off, this is a turbulent Tempest: noisy and exciting, amusing and drunken. There is live music, there are jigs and drinking songs, almost a choreographed masque, a carry-out pizza menu and fun use of the smartphone – No signal, haha! – but there is some contemporary fallout that you might question. Adrian (Laurie Motherwell) – is it Adrian or the Boatswain or both? – takes point with aviators, head-torch and war paint. Shades of Lord of the Flies meets Rambo. Antonio (Alex Poole) and Sebastian (Will Hearle) do a distinct lean and mean and sinful but a pen-knife is not a sword. Scale that up and you realise that one shiny scaffolding tower and discarded blue barrels (plastic) do not a derrick and oil platform make, abandoned or not. Pipe sections on the thrust deck, a hard hat or two, a cable spool, wiring, ExxonMobil advertising; anything for the illusion of fabric from the stalls, however insubstantial or baseless.
Shakespeare’s company really just dressed up, or down, or across. Alonso is become Alonsa (Lucile Taylor), which is simple and effective.
Costume then; and with not a stained Shell logo in sight. Miranda and Caliban’s torn and distressed look is innocent cool and dirty cool respectively; Gonzalo’s jacket, tie and waistcoat tie are on the button, right out of a wardrobe in Toad Hall; butler outfit for Stefano and ridiculous shirt for jester Trinculo, all quite fitting. Life-jacket and white pressed jeans for Ferdinand. Fly. But Prospero and Ariel, who should be up there in colour and magic garments, appear grounded by heavy overcoat and figure-hugging black. Too dull for words.
The rest, the real business of making good – invest in people now, oil futures later – is all about speech and performance. Virtuous parts first.
Ariel (Ellie Deans) loves her commanding master and possibly more than the promise of her liberty, which is original and affecting. This rushing spirit is more eager than delicate, is loyal and kind, and deserves her freedom. Prospero (Sacha Timaeus) presides with a style and sardonic nobility, but he would be in Davos and not the library. Miranda (Poppy Weir) is wonderful and young and not at all bound by her ‘virgin-knot’. Ferdinand (Will Fairhead) cannot help but love her in bashful fashion and their courtship is indeed goodly, beauteous and admirable.
Jon Oldfield as Gonzalo is a venerable act. He bumbles, he stumbles, but he is not the buffoon and sententious bore of shallow productions. Oldfield waves a carrot with more skill and pronounces to better effect than any Renaissance prince around.
To the things and creatures of darkness, who always threaten to steal the show. Joe Shaw is Caliban, who will grovel for a Pot Noodle and eat his own bogies. Shaw plays brutish, ignorant and fearful with real appetite but mouths his words with care and feeling (Miranda taught him after all) so the nature / nurture debate is properly kept wide open. Trinculo (Dean Joffe) and Stephano (Connor Jones) play Caliban like a fish on the line. They are funny and cruel and craven and – of course – the audience laughs with them, a lot, until reminded to laugh at them.
The Tempest is a marvellous play so you can take it to any stage or platform that you please. Jack Kinross, cast and crew, inhabit it with due respect and great spirit, even though some of its magic is still onshore.
‘Farewell, dear island of our wreck:
All have been restored to health,
All have seen the Commonwealth.
There is nothing to forgive.’
From W.H Auden’s The Sea and the Mirror (1940), a commentary on The Tempest
Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 6 March)
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