Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Douglas Campbell
at Vanier Park, Vancouver, Canada
June 14th to September 24th
Bard Box Office: (604) 739 - 0559.
ONE OF SHAKESPEARE'S MOST ENCHANTING PLAYS
by Jane Penistan
On Saturday June17th the Bard on the Beach opened its eleventh season with The Tempest. This is one of Shakespeare's most enchanting plays.
Cast away on a desert island through the machinations of his evil brother, Prospero and his daughter survive for twelve years. Having learnt the art of magic and aided by his spirit servant Ariel, Prospero raises a tempest which wrecks the ship on which his brother is returning to Milan in the company of the king of Naples and other attending nobles. Among the company is the king's son, Ferdinand.
Ariel separates the ship's company into three separate groups and isolates Ferdinand who encounters Prospero and his daughter, Miranda. The king and his company believe the son drowned in the shipwreck while Ferdinand grieves the loss of his father and supposes himself now to be the King of Naples.
Meanwhile, the jester, Trinculo and the drunken butler, Stephano meet Prospero's other servant, Caliban, a misshapen wretch whom Prospero has found on the island and enslaved after his unwelcome advances to Miranda. In this unblemished world of the island, the king and his company are haunted by their guilt of past sins.
Trinculo and Stephano suddenly become masters, not servants and with the aid of Stephano's access to looted wine enslave Caliban again. Ariel, the spirit, recognizes the remorse and suffering of the king and some of his company, and inspires Prospero to cease his revengeful torment.
As in all good fairy stories, the innocent young prince and princess are married, the evil doers forgiven, and the servants set free-- Ariel to the freedom of the elements, and Caliban to his island.
In an age of exploration and colonization, Prospero's commandeering the island and enslaving its owner, while freeing the island's prisoner to be his supernatural slave, smacks of the empire building of the seventeenth century.
This production begins with magic. The storm is presented by Ariel and his cohorts as emerald green sea spirits. The tempestuous sea is presented with waving turquoise silk. Accompanied by George Ryan's evocative music and the actors reeling across the stage, Prospero (Christopher Weddell) conducts the storm from his balcony . Weddell controls the play from this first scene.. With his commanding figure in his magician's cloak and his excellent voice and diction, he is all powerful. Even when not on stage, his influence is felt and is conveyed by all the actors.
As Miranda, Moya O'Connell, just fails to be the innocent and unsullied adolescent who has grown up in the islands isolation. It is unfortunate that this actress has a tendency to shout her lines, but this might have been due to the stress of a first night performance. As Ferdinand, Martin Sims presents a very; personable and likeable young man who is thoughtful and recognizes his responsibilities.
The King of Naples (Matthew Penn) has lost his authority and presence. He is shipwrecked and grief-stricken, haunted by his guilty conscience in his involvement in Prospero's banishment. He is a man disintegrating under stress. As Gonzalo, John Innes, represents the good and faithful servant with warmth and understanding. Antonio (Donald Adams), brother to Prospero and his usurper, is unconvincing as a murderer, while Sebastian (Don Noble) is unkind, arrogant, and certainly evil enough to commit fratricide.
Trinculo (Torquil Campbell) and Stephano (Christopher Gaze) present the lessser sins to which humanity is heir-- those of getting drunk and having the ambition to be masters, not men. These actors produce the light comedy scenes with impeccable acting and timing. Every bit of fun and humour is there in these delinquents.
Tiffany Lindall-Knight's Ariel is graceful and charming, but even her balletic movement and grace cannot quite convince the audience that she is mortal and not a spirit. Her most telling moment is when she recognizes Prospero's humanity; and her own inability to feel compassion. She and her attendant spirits perform Prospero's magic, conjuring up huge puppets for Miranda's betrothal entertainment, and admirably singing the songs set to George Ryan's music.
This concept of the performance of enchantment carried out by spirits is realized in the stultifying of the Neapolitans and Milanese, and in the introductory storm scene conducted by Prospero. It is in this way that the director, Douglas Campbell, has made the fairy tale magic plausible..
The actors are lavishly costumed by Mara Gottler: the noblemen in opulent Elizabethan doublets and hose; Prospero and Miranda in a more simple academic style. The spirits are in iridescent emerald green with gold embellished head-dresses. The stage has a raised balcony at the back, an entrance to Prospero's dwelling on one side and Caliban's cave on the other. Even the stage has its good and evil side.
This is an entertaining production of what is thought to be Shakespeare's last play. Go to Vanier Park and spend an enchanted evening there.