With the York Shakespeare Festival’s new production of The Tempest, Fairy Lake Park has never so aptly lived up to its name, deftly proving that “all the world is a stage.”
Unlike Romeo and Juliet—its well-loved repertory partner where the audience watches from the bleachers inside a tent—this play is staged on a genuine island and seen from specially constructed seating that floats. It’s a marvellous reality set: designers Vin Bolton and James Cameron have done it again.
The large cast presents the famous tale of treachery, power-lust, sudden love and forgiveness with conviction and poise—even with the outdoor challenges of inconsistent sound reinforcement, low flying bats and high flying planes. But everything looks great thanks to Rebecca Picherack’s beautiful lighting design—particularly after intermission where the action often moves onto the trees and, to their nimble credit, the actors never missed a branch!
The exiled Prospero (deposed Duke of Milan, played with thoughtful understatement by David McIlwraith) is a well-read magician whose power is more intellectual than real, but whose conniving wishes (including sudden sleep and shipwrecking without casualties or wetness) are carried out by his indentured spirit, Ariel. Matthew Fyfe delivers this central role—think Peter Pan without pixie dust—with skill and athleticism but just a nickel short of the knowing impishness that would make it exceptional. When he is finally set free by his master, I wasn’t sure if the coincident removal of his string shirt was a metaphor or a wardrobe glitch.
But there is a monster afoot! Dylan Roberts as the fish/human Caliban had his control of the island taken from him “twelve years hence” and ended up a servant to those from foreign places (Prospero, then Adrian Churchill’s uproarious Stephano), but he is easily manipulated with promises for vengeance and strong liquor—that could never happen here! The scenes of slapstick, mayhem and bathroom humour (aided immeasurably by the antics of Joel Cottingham’s Trinculo—court jester) proved to be the comic highlights of the performance—especially for the very youngest members of the crowd who screamed with delight.
Rod Ceballos (resplendent in Bolton and Cameron’s wardrobe choices) as the marooned King of Naples has a rough day: He believes his son, Ferdinand (Steven McCarthy) has drowned, is nearly executed by his own court and, when Prospero’s lengthy dénouement concludes, begs forgiveness only to discover that his forgiver is now the father of his son’s bride! Ceballos provides a rich, steady platform that nicely balances the failings of those who plot around him.
The love interest is Prospero’s daughter, Miranda (Sharmila Dey) who has only seen two men in her life (Father, monster) and is instantly smitten with the third: Ferdinand who the cunning Prospero has separated from his shipmates in order to kindle this match. No prompting is required, love is declared and a trio of white-gowned goddesses lead the celebration of the lovers’ betrothal with sustenance and song.
In fact, Rick Hyslop’s soundscape is an embarrassment of riches. The near non-stop array of sounds (instrumental and chants, including Caliban’s grunt-motif) often overpowered the lines and prevented those present from savouring the Bard’s text uncluttered. Then, when music was demanded, it held much less of the wonder that it might have with more judicious usage.
Director Chris Abraham has fashioned a show that admirably takes advantage of its ideal setting and professional cast; at such reasonable prices—running until September 1—it’s a must-see show for families and theatre aficionados alike. JWR