Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The Tempest

RSC, Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
24 February 2009

Not all message and metaphor

I was a nymph in The Tempest when I was about 12. It was an all-female production, but sadly not in the all-male Swan Lake sense, where having all the parts played by one gender enhances the production by providing new insights. It was an all-female Tempest because I was at an all-girls school and needs must!

There really was nothing new about my school production at all it was as traditional as it comes, except for the rather fetching (not!) pink nylon dress that I had to wear! These kinds of experiences can taint your view of Shakespeare for life, but luckily, the existence of the RSC and many other forward thinking and exciting companies are our theatrical saviours.

The RSC’s latest production of The Tempest, directed by Janice Honeyman, is in collaboration with the Baxter Theatre Centre of Cape Town and is just one example of how a 400-year-old play can have exciting new life pumped into it. It’s a spectacular riot of colour, innovation and emotion, that shows that Shakespeare is just as relevant today as it ever was.

Instead of being set on some non-descript fantasy island, the action takes place on an African isle. Looking at the play as a study of colonialism is a popular view, but this setting takes the idea further so it appears more to be about South African apartheid. This is most clearly shown in the relationship between John Kani’s magnificently dignified Caliban who declares "This island's mine" and Antony Sher’s tormented Prospero who tries to control and abuse him. Other notable performances come from Atandwa Kani as a captivating Ariel and Tinarie Van Wyk Loots as a beguiling Miranda.

However, it’s not all message and metaphor because as well as having these creditable undertones, the production is also reminiscent of The Lion King. The warm lighting takes you to a desert type location, the puppets and ethnic costumes are a riot of colour and the frenzied dancing and singing to the music of an on stage band is fun and uplifting.

This is a magic new take on Shakespeare’s last play and a great birthday present! (Thanks Mr FB!)

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