Friday, 20 March 2009

The Tempest - The Richmond Theatre

The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Director: Janice Honeyman
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman

A co-production between the Baxter Theatre Centre and the RSC, this production of The Tempest promised to be an exciting, inventive and visual spectacle.

A project first pitched by director Janice Honeyman in 2000, the ‘African’ Tempest exposes themes of enslavement, racism and corruption that have a particular resonance with modern African life and politics – and also anchors this ‘magical’ play in a place where spiritualism, ritual and mysticism still have strong meaning. Honeyman has drawn together the power of African culture and both traditional and original African music, weaving a modern vitality into this classic text.

Anthony Sher gives a strong performance in the central role of Prospero, a man who is at times vehement and forcible, and at others’ wonderfully tender. I was particularly struck by his relationship with Atandwa Kani’s Ariel – on several occasions he tried to make physical contact, but stopped at the last moment. The ritual at the end of the play when he frees Ariel was both symbolic and moving, the washing away of the spirit’s body paint physically representing the breaking of his bonds. John Kani is majestic as Caliban, and his gravitas and vocal power made him a joy to watch. However, the representation of him as a man rather than the expected ‘monster’ works as a comment on slavery, but makes it hard to see him as monstrous and not to sympathise with a dignified older man being badly treated.

Due to the cutting of the play, I felt some of the other characters were not fleshed out as they would be in the full text, however the characters of Sebastian and Trinculo certainly survived this and brought their usual comic relief. I was surprised, and delighted, by Tinarie Van Wyk Loots as Miranda - a role that frequently smacks of saccharine was re-imagined here, with the ingĂ©nue daughter appearing as a feral creature amazed by the entrance of civilisation into her world. Some enjoyable comic moments came out of her ‘exploring’ Ferdinand, and in the physical stances she adopted, often moving on all fours or stopping to scratch the soles of her feet. Charlie Keegan also debunked the idea that models can’t act, giving a commendable performance as Ferdinand.

For me, Atandwa Kani’s Ariel was the star of this production, breathing new life into a character whom has been represented as anything from a nymph to a robot and everything in between. From his terrifying harpy (for which he bounced on stilts whilst declaiming and whirling sticks) to his elated cries when his freedom was granted, he was a true pleasure to watch, embodying the character and interacting beautifully with the rest of the cast.

Although cutting the play to two hours seemed a little severe, the story still kept its shape and intensity. With strong performances across the board and amazing puppetry, music and set, this production was both enjoyable and accessible, and succeeded in transporting the Bard’s last play into an exciting “brave new world”.

Photos: Eric Miller.

The Tempest runs at the Richmond Theatre until Sat 28th March 09
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