JWR Articles: Live Event - The Tempest (Director: Des McAnuff) - June 26, 2010
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The Tempest

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A version of this review appeared in the June 8-14, 2010 edition of Echo Magazine
The triumph of art

How marvellously coincidental that the opening night of Christopher Plummer’s latest incarnation as the magically wily, finally forgiving Prospero came to glorious life just as the G8 met ‘ere a few hours away in Huntsville.

Both Shakespeare and the political leaders of the world’s wealthiest states dealt with tempests (conjured-up, ship-wrecking seas from the Bard; the aftermath of a self-induced financial tsunami in the present), treachery (the Duke of Milan—Plummer—forcefully deposed by his power-hungry brother—John Vickery—in the play; the citizenry of the Gulf Coast once more in peril due to BP’s lust for the enhancement of “shareholder value” came at the incalculable expense of safety) and fear of the different amongst us (the monster/slave, Caliban—Dion Johnstone: superb, dutifully bowing then opportunistically plotting in the famous romance; the disabled, diseased or “deservedly” destitute here in the twenty-first century).

More’s the pity that Canada couldn’t have ponied up bus fare and group-rate tickets to enable the “free” world’s finest an excursion to the Festival Theatre after a day of discussions and arm twisting. There was so much art in the storied hall that the playwright’s enduring craft and timeless messages might well have touched the minds and hearts of those who long abandoned the practice of wise governing in favour of policy-by-polls.

As with any Des McAnuff production, the overarching emphasis favours the visual elements. Having assembled a stellar design team (set: Robert Brill, costume: Paul Tazewell; lighting: Michael Walton—all fuelled by the director’s unbounded imagination and sense of style), the eye is treated to a spectacular array of images, visions, textures and effects that nearly always hit their marks.

What fun to see Prospero and his ever-faithful servant/spirit, Ariel (fantastically portrayed by the demur Julyana Soelistyo who, when her singing voice catches up to her acting and movement talents, will be in constant demand for years to come—what a pity her angelic wings were too large by half), admire their high-seas handiwork as the opening scene brings a ship of royalty, minions and crew to the shores of the exiled Duke’s island of “noises” (largely musical—composer Michael Roth providing the contextual soundscape) and scaly-back islanders.

The desperate voyagers were cajoled with a perfect sense of irony by boatswain Wayne Best who managed to deliver his key lines over and above the stormy hubbub (“Keep your cabins; you do assist the storm”). Now, if only the harried passengers and crew could lurch as one.

The singular major balance problem (and easily remedied, methinks) comes with the arrival of the three gowned spirits (Amanda Lisman, Claire Lautier, Sophia Walker) whose trio of matrimonial blessings were mostly overpowered by the musicians and not yet perfectly pitched. The couple being feted exude charm, passion and innocence. The latter is especially well developed in the wide-eyed performance of Trish Lindström playing Miranda. Gareth Potter proves an able suitor as Ferdinand, gamely hauling about, sitting upon and, er, lifting his metaphorical log—a woody destined for the Guinness Book of Bawdy Records.

The comedic aspects were deftly provided by Bruce Dow as jester Trinculo (his droll delivery and split-second ability to let the audience create a laugh of their own as well as erupt in his are is welcome as it is rare) and Geraint Wyn Davies’ “grapely” infused portrait of the good butler Stephano.

The best magic of all came from the deeply felt, subtly crafted relationship between Prospero and Ariel. Plummer fired on all cylinders, bringing his life’s work into every line and scene. It seems that his own sense of self, accomplishment and desire to be fresh, vibrant and relevant have further unlocked his fabled skills. The many moments of ironic comedy took on extra meaning as he expertly mixed timing, tone, visage and gesture. When his final speech arrived, he spoke truly to the rapt crowd even as he controlled their instinctive reaction of interrupting his final quest for understanding and freedom.

Imagine the G8 experiencing that incredible moment for themselves! JWR

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