Magic Moments. The Tempest. Baxter Theatre Centre in association with the RSC. Courtyard Theatre, Stratford upon Avon. Feb 2009.

Out of all Shakespeare’s late plays my favourite is The Winter’s Tale. Cymbeline is as mad as a barrel of frogs, Pericles has a structure that has more holes than a pair of student’s socks and then there is The Tempest. Brimming over with some delicious moments, it nonetheless has a central character who is on a good day a bit of a miserable swine; overbearing, bitter, and all the more uncomfortable an Imperialist.

However, always of the opinion that a good production can lead me someway to changing my mind, I was pleased to be seeing The Baxter Theatre Company of South Africa performing at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford. For one thing this gave me the chance of seeing Antony Sher and John kani for the first time on stage, and so I was quite animated.

Sher was breathtaking.

Not letting us forget Prospero’s weaknesses, he showed us a full gamut of emotions. He was an affectionate father to Tinarie Van Wyk Loot‘s wild Miranda and surprisingly tender toward Atandwa Kani’s impressively physical spirit-warrior Ariel.

Sher was perfectly complimented by John Kani. Kani gave a noble and dignified performance as Caliban. The Director (Janice Honeyman) clearly chose to highlight the post colonial interpretation of the play and the South African setting highlighted this brilliantly. The basic fact that Prospero was a white South African whilst Caliban was black made a simple but striking image. As Honeyman mentions in the programme notes ‘It’s our play! It’s African! It sounds like home.’
The South African setting was also used to great effect in regard to the play’s magical aspect. There were a selection of ‘spirits’ present on stage throughout who whistled, sang and danced. Visually it was extremely impressive, filled with colour and light. The stage was dominated by a large tree silhouetted against an African dusk. Puppetry was used to underscore several points, making a giant Sycorax her hands becoming the knotted pine which entrapped Ariel.

The production was a powerful and emotive one. When we were treated to Prospero’s ‘our revels now are ended’ speech, Sher spat out his lines in a kind of distress and frustration -It was very powerful and a moment which encouraged a few tears. Again Sher provoked an emotive response when he realized his revenge plan was so inhumane. As he reached for his shotgun, Ariel motioned for him to put it down and Prospero suddenly became appalled by his propensity toward violence. Finally the play concluded with a theatrical bombshell. As Prospero addressed the audience with his final plea to be released by the audience he looked long and hard at Caliban as he said ‘As You from Crimes would pardoned be, Let your indulgence set me free’. He then picked up his chattels and movables and left the stage, leaving Kani stood aloft in the tree, alone staring down at the audience holding his staff aloft.

It was a magic moment. Appropriate really.


belle said…
Completely agree with you, Jules, it was sheer genius. Not my favourite play either, but oh boy, did it grow on me after this!
Jules said…
I am pleased you agree! It is nice tpo know I am not alone....

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