A white nobleman lands on an island. He befriends a native and uses his help to get set up, whilst giving him trinkets from his trade abroad. As soon as the native’s function is fulfilled, the nobleman instantly casts him aside. He uses up the natural wealth of the island, using it to his own advantage and does down the traditions that were already in place long before he arrived. Sound familiar? Shakespeare’s The Tempest is often praised for its allegorical treatment of colonialism.
In The Tempest, Prospero is the cast aside Duke of Naples who takes over the unnamed island. In Caliban’s Codex, we hear the voice of the half-man, half-creature Caliban, the colonised. Emily Carding plays the halfling, squirming across stage, jumping, leaping and stamping her feet. Her performance is resonant of a creature that lives within the shadows of his land, in the darkness and born of it. We listen to the story of Sycorax, his mother, who lay with the Devil himself. And as Prospero gains control of the island, we hear about Ariel too, the spirit freed from his resin-prison in the pine tree. And Ariel is used to play tricks upon Caliban. Caliban wants to save his island from ‘man’s capricious desire’, but it is not evident if man is also in the audience as they are directly addressed.
The script sticks to the basic plot of The Tempest, but it fails to extrapolate it much wider. It also limits itself to appreciation from those who are truly familiar with the play. The script is poetic, and John Knowles has done a fine job of the writing and direction. However, it does sound like a rant at times, and not one particularly directed at anybody. Man’s destruction of nature is the central theme, but with a limited set, it is kept from truly coming to life and some of the material is just a little too esoteric.
But from where this play arises, it brings a most topical and important theme into a very unique setting. An adaptation of a Shakespearean drama isn’t the most obvious way to talk about ecological destruction. But Carding merges the dream-like with the real in this solo performance with panache.