This lively acid-trip of a production – being shown in parallel with Our Country’s Good as part of the Tron’s 2014 Mayfesto season – explores themes of colonisation with unflinching frankness whilst never misplacing the magic of one of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedies.
Appropriated by many cultures as a vehicle for themes of colonialism and racial tension, The Tempest is nevertheless one of Shakespeare’s most magical comedies, charting the experiences of a group of Neapolitan noblemen after they are shipwrecked on an island populated by the changeable magician Prospero, his daughter Miranda and Prospero’s two slaves, the mischievous spirit Ariel and despised native Caliban.
The energetic cast, all post-grad acting students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, bring Shakespeare’s text to vivid life with great technical understanding and a huge amount of fun. Deserving special mention are Rebecca Murphy’s Prospero and Renee Williams’ Caliban. Murphy plays all the facets of Prospero’s conflicted character with ease, while Williams’ Caliban is an intense, dignified presence, burning with the slow, smouldering anger of the wrongfully imprisoned. Costumed in pan-African patterned robes and braided hair, this Caliban’s only concession to ‘monstrosity’ is not being white.
Emphasising the class and racial tensions between the characters, Hazel Blue’s unsubtle wardrobe dresses the Europeans in smart suits and bowler hats, while Miranda and Propero’s mash-up of ragged court-wear and unkempt hair betrays their strange dislocation from the island they claim to rule. Andy Arnold’s quirky direction complements the outlandish costumes and combines with ethereal lighting and sound design to create a trippy, mirage-like island, where nothing is quite as it seems.
Letting the production down are some strange accent choices, the Neapolitans’ accents take in most of the globe, blurring the idea of colonial power-struggle that Arnold is trying to make explicit. Also, the addition of Aime Cesaire‘s text to top and tail the play is jarring. Overall however, this is a vibrant production and a great introduction to one of Shakespeare’s best-loved plays.