A break in the traditional weather

This Last Tempest

Malvern Theatres

****

It may well be impossible to count the number of adaptations of The Tempest and the pieces it has inspired.

This new production from Uninvited Guests in collaboration with Fuel starts with the last words of Shakespeare’s final play and explores what happens to spirit Ariel and the very human Caliban once Prospero and The Tempest’s other characters have sailed away from the strange island, leaving them without a master, and alone.

As with The Tempest, this is a piece with many themes and layers, and which can be interpreted in many different ways. For those who know the original play well, it is interesting to hear more about the lives, thoughts and emotions of Ariel (Jessica Hoffmann) and Caliban (Richard Dufty), but this also works as a stand-alone piece of theatre for those who are not familiar with Shakespeare’s characters.

One key theme of This Last Tempest is of course freedom, and after Ariel’s initial announcement that she is leaving, and Caliban‘s exuberant exclamations, we see that the two are actually unsure aAriel in the last tempests to what to do with this long yearned for liberty.

The pair are at first childlike and seem lost without Prospero to govern over them, bickering and falling into familiar roles with Ariel continuing to torment Caliban. They play at being human, recalling the lines spoken by others in The Tempest, until the words and associated feelings become their own.

They are constantly experimenting with what it means to relate to each other and to the world of nature, as they envisage the possibilities open to them in shaping their lives and their world.

Towards the end of the play we are reminded of wise Gonzalo’s speech in which he describes an island utopia without rulers or class, weapons or hard labour, much of which Shakespeare ‘borrowed’ from French philosopher Michel de Montaigne’s 1580 essay Of Cannibals.

Ariel, played by Jessica Hoffmann, finds the island a different world when marooned alone with Caliban

The use of this speech explicitly expands the play’s theme of freedom to extend to society as a whole, and Montaigne, Shakespeare, Gonzalo, and now Ariel and Caliban all seem to be wondering what kind of society might make for a happier humanity and what would happen if our current rules and rulers were to disappear.

 It may be because the most recent version of The Tempest I’ve seen is Julie Taymor’s 2010 adaptation featuring Russell Brand as the jester Trinculo, but this repetition of Gonzalo’s speech reminds me of Brand’s current challenge to the accepted system. What could humankind become? What could society be? Ariel and Caliban offer different versions of utopia, one with humans disappearing completely, leaving the world in peace.

This is not a straightforward or traditional play, but a melding of theatre, song, art, noise, movement and spectacle, and Neil Johnson’s character of the musician and the weird soundscapes he creates are integral to the piece.

The use of sound, lighting and dry ice make for wonderful on stage tempests, and the audience is brought into proceedings more than once, the first time being asked to pass between themselves a speaker in the form of a rock. (There were rocks and logs which were speakers and microphones; my utopia may well include a few of each.)

At another point, Caliban insulted and cursed audience members. ‘You smell like a fish!’ he accused, ‘I will beat you and I will brain you and I will batter your skull!’ But we got to see his nice side too. Over the course of the play, Ariel and Caliban become gentler towards each other, recognising that their histories and treatment have made them unkind but that they can choose to change. This feels like a play with optimism, a reminder of the power that we all have to set our own course and affect the world around us.

Great entertainment, thought-provoking and fun, we watch Ariel fly, we are shown the mechanics of theatre, we are given glimpses of the possibilities of a social revolution and at the end of the piece as the actors stand amongst the audience and call each other by their real names, we are reminded once again that all the world is indeed a stage. May we all play our parts with finesse.

After its brief stay at Malvern, This Last Tempest moves on to Folkestone, Cambridge, Colchester and Margate. To 5-11-14.

Amy Rainbow

4-11-14 

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