As I sit down to write the rain, which began as an epic thunderstorm, has been falling for twenty-four hours. How could there be a better evening for an outdoor performance of The Tempest, the Shakespeare play I love the most, and to follow up my enjoyable time at Julius Caesar a while ago? The Freewill Shakespeare Company’s production and performances were wonderful — at times glorious — and the weather was perfect.
I’ve read other reviews which have highly praised the opening scene of the titular Tempest and that praise has been appropriate. The use of the turntable and the stairs at left and right is tremendous, as is the coordinated Star Trek battle-lean of the cast. But there is more magic on Prospero’s Island than just the opening weather tricks. The dual-duty-doing set design by Cory Sincennes is remarkable in it’s beauty, in it’s appropriateness to both plays it serves, in it’s variability, and in its functionality. The sound design from the opening maritime, vaguely foghornish drone is marvelous. And Narda McCarroll’s costume design ranges from startlingly appropriate (the Court of Naples as a biker gang) to absolutely stunning (Ariel and the sprites).
Again I have my quibbles: as is Julius Caesar, The Tempest is shortened; Ariel as written is male, not Amber Borotsik’s very clear female spirit; Miranda’s stern (and empowering) lecture to Caliban in Act I, scene 2 is partly given to Prospero, disappointingly; and in Act 4, Scene 1, Ferdinand is given the lines
so rare a wondered father and a wife
Makes this place paradise.
instead of the more strongly attested
so rare a wondered father and a wise
Makes this place paradise.
But these are quibbles, particularly the last: Such a charming Ferdinand as Mat Simpson would definitely list in paradise such a charming Miranda as Cayley Thomas-Haug.
Simpson nails Ferdinand as the gangly wide-eyed teenager suddenly alone in a very strange and magical world. And Thomas-Haug, whose performance in Julius Caesar so struck me, doesn’t disappoint, seeming to spend much of the play joyfully building to the most joyous wonder of her “Brave new world” moment. In the scenes with John Wright’s Prospero, father and daughter play off each other with great — at times painful — realism. Wright’s Prospero is everything it should be: undoubtedly powerful, at times fickle, at others forgetful, in the end generous and forgiving — except toward Caliban, to the discomfort of this and generations of audiences.
Nathan Cuckow as Caliban is stinkingly reptilian — is that right hand he waves behind him meant to be a tail? Or is he waving away a constant fart? When joined by Kevin Corey’s Stephano and Troy O’Donnell’s Trinculo, these three are the epitome of the Shakespearean clowns and thankfully manage to completely avoid Disney. So refreshing (despite the smell)!
Something I had wondered while rereading the play earlier today was what director John Kirkpatrick would do with the masque, a sort of theatre very foreign to modern audiences. To avoid at least one spoiler, I’ll just say that it’s tremendous!
And now, the best, which I’ve saved for last . . .
Amber Borotsik’s Ariel.
From the opening storm scene, in which she bounces about the tempest tossed ship, calling down the lightening, to her final departure when Prospero sets her free, her eyes flash across the stage, watching everything, and her smile shines with glee as she uses her magic. In her first scene with Prospero, she convinces that she is fawningly in love with the old Magus, but in an instant Borotsik transforms and is at first is enraged that her freedom is not yet, and then a moment later is grovelling, broken at Prospero’s feet. She flits about the stage, appearing and disappearing, singing and dancing, and then terrifyingly transforming into a Fury, wings flapping above the trembling Alonso (Chris Bullough) and his courtiers.
I found my gaze drawn back to Borotsik in many scenes where she sat silent in the background: her eyes — no doubt aided by the makeup — continuously flashed around at the others on the stage. Ariel is clearly attentive to everything around her, taking everything in, drawing everything in. I can’t help but think that Borotsik has in some sense made Ariel the centre of the play, more than Ferdinand and Miranda (although Simpson and Thomas-Haug take a good shot at that bull’s-eye) and certainly more than Wright’s exquisite Prospero.
Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the Freewill Tempest. There’s only about a week left in the festival. Please, hurry out to Julius Caesar or The Tempest, or both, at the Heritage Amphitheatre in Hawrelak Park.