After the Tempest
Inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest
What happens after Prospero has left the island and returned to Milan? It is an intriguing thought and Teatro Vivo’s outdoor promenade (which I saw in Holland Park) would seem to be about regime change.
The audience are guests whom Ariel has invited to join the spirits of the island to celebrate one year of independence since past ruler Prospero’s departure. They each become an honorary spirit of either Air or Earth according to the bird feather or fir cone emblem which is hung around their neck.
Meeting the other spirits, some, dressed in what is clearly island fashion, are recognisable as the personalities you will know from Shakespeare. Ariel, playing host, identifies herself and the somewhat tattered guy with long tousled hair dragging a drum around must be Caliban; when he came and asked if I had any wine that confirmed it.
One young man was obviously Ferdinand (though when I asked Ariel said he was now known as Christian) but others are not so obvious. Miranda turned out to be a very ample-bosomed black girl with a winning smile and personality. She’s lovely, but you could see why Prospero thought his magic would be necessary to make this rather callow young public schoolboy prince fall for her—she’s not a skinny fashion plate People’s Princess.
Why had they stayed on after her father left? I didn’t get the chance to ask, but did discover that, while Ariel had certainly gained her freedom, life for Caliban was almost as bad as under Prospero—no wonder he wanted a tipple.
When all the guests were gathered and the hosts assembled, Ariel began the proceedings, informing us that they were going to re-enact the last days of the former ruler so that we would better understand their celebration.
In fact the show is basically that re-enactment. It is a filleted version of Shakespeare’s play with a few additions and changes to fit available casting and the fact that this is a performed re-creation with spirits playing the persons who have left and those characters still there themselves.
They begin with Ariel shipboard brewing up a tempest. How do you turn a patch of grass into a storm-wracked vessel? They do it with ropes, a sail and buckets of water, Ariel giving everyone else a soaking. Then the guests divide, Air party this way, Earth that, to follow the rest of the story on cleverly chosen locations (mainly in woodland on this occasion), both groups coming together later.
I cannot speak for what the Earth Spirits saw, but Air Spirits got an attractive presentation of The Tempest that included all the main incidents of the story. Moving from one location to another there were reminders that this was an enactment.
For instance, there are enquiries about what island people had come from, what it was like there, requests to assist in some of the action: blowing penny whistles for instance to aid Ariel’s magic, the pair playing Trinculo and Stephano uncertain about having to perform, Miranda wondering how a marriage proposal happened and, more importantly perhaps, this intruding into the action, Caliban bemoaning his continuing subjection in what he believes is his island.
As the evening goes on, you wonder how long it will be before you get the “After” as opposed to the re-enactment. It would be a spoiler to say exactly what happens, but when those who are not playing aristos tell you “That’s not re-enactment it’s always like that” and start asking how the visitors’ homelands are governed, things take on a contemporary feel. Whose side will the visitors be on? Will they involve themselves?
As darkness closes in and the final reconciliations are lit by flashlights, Ariel uses Prospero’s “Now our revels all are ended” speech to declare the end of the re-enactment. But what is happening in the background? Does “regime change” just mean swapping one dictator for another, one unfair system for what could be worse?
This is a production that doesn’t really deliver what it seems to offer. What happens after Prospero’s gone could be a fascinating scenario, but this is really The Tempest with a twist that does not explore that and isn’t fully thought through. For instance though Ferdinand has been renamed Christian he does seem to be the same person, and Miranda too. Why have they stayed on the island? Or are they original island natives?
On a warm summer evening and with these engaging actors this would be an enjoyable production of Shakespeare’s play even if done without the framing. There is a strong Ariel from Kas Darley, a lively comic pair in Jim Fish and Erin Hunter’s Trinculo and Stephano and a darkly bad-tempered Prospero from Michael Wagg.
Natasha Maggie is a bouncy, girlish Miranda, Tom Ross Williams a spellbound Ferdinand—he is so out of his depth you wonder whether even free of magic he could think for himself. Jason Eddy is handsomely charming as Prospero’s usurping brother despite his wicked plotting, and Nick Dutton as Ferdinand’s royal dad is an aristocrat trained to hide his feelings.
It is Mark Stevenson’s naïve, much-wronged, sympathy-winning Caliban who makes most contact and that helps to make the point with which director Sophie Austin leaves the audience.
After the Tempest plays at Holland Park until 27 July then Central Park, East Ham 1-3 August, Church House Gardens, Bromley, 8-10 August 2013.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton