Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The Tempest

Having opened in Stratford this RSC Tempest is now touring the UK. Directed by Janice Honeyman, it is a co-production with South Africa’s Baxter Theatre Centre.

Usually The Tempest is regarded as Shakespeare, the great storyteller’s farewell to the stage. In this version the magic and story-telling power remains, as does the motif of forgiveness and reconciliation for the past usurpation of legitimate political power. However, in this production, the magic and spirits that Prospero accesses are African. The forgiveness asked for at the end is that of the coloniser from the colonised.

The whole thing has an extraordinary vigour. There are live musicians, giant puppets and dancers. They take the part of the island’s spirits, both advancing and commenting on the action. Throughout the production is clear and entertaining; there is much humour to be found in the text. Miranda isn’t too wishy-washy (Tinarie Van Wyk Loots), and Aerial (Atandwa Kani) is athletic, full of grace and a longing to be free.

Anthony Sher is a bombastic yet ultimately sympathetic and kindly Prospero, while John Kani a justifiably angry Caliban.

The ending of the play – the part where Prospero appeals for release and forgiveness - is not addressed to the audience as is customary – but to Caliban; in essence it is an apology for colonialism – and it is a very powerful and deeply moving moment.

Now touring: Grand Theatre, Leeds (until 4th April), Theatre Royal, Bath (7th-11th April), Theatre Royal, Nottingham (14th-18th April) and Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield (21st-25th April)

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