Monday, 16 February 2009

African tempest

To Stratford to see The Tempest in a new collaborative production between the RSC and Cape Town's Baxter Theatre Company.

Shakespeare's strange, final, most original play is set on a magical island, re-imagined here by director Janice Honeyman as an arena where a troop of spirits conjure a series of vibrant visions 'out of thin air' (yes, Bill invented the phrase) with the help of masks, puppets, pulsating music and dance.

Controlling the action is the central figure of the magus Prospero (Anthony Sher), aided by his not-quite-under-control agent, the spirit Ariel, whose 'dark' counterpart is the slave-monster Caliban (John Kani).

The relationship between these three seems to be the special focus of this production. And with Prospero as the only white member of the trio, the master/servant dynamic has a troubling, spiky resonance.

Ariel and Caliban seem to embody profound aspects of Prospero's sense of himself.

Ariel is mobile, mercurial, lithe and untouchable, straining for his freedom.

Caliban, playing firmly against Prospero's descriptions of him, is montrous only in the eyes of his 'master'. Kani, grey-haired and walking with two sticks, has a gravitas and dignity of Mandela proprtions. It's a bold idea.

Much to relish in this vivid, exciting and clearly spoken production.

Top marks to Anthony Sher for sheer vocal power and authority. He doesn't just speak the verse, he breathes it. And that's what makes it live.

After completing this post, I read Charles Spencer's notice in the Telegraph - and found it helpful and enlightening.

Ditto regarding this interview with John Kani.

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