Six ropes hang from the rig to the bare stage, which, along with a little imagination, is all that is used throughout this production to conjure the various scenes in Tara Arts’s production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Caroline Bishop was at the Arts theatre for the first night…
The ropes in Claudia Mayer’s minimalist design are used to depict the shipwreck that opens Shakespeare’s fable, the forests and terrain on the island where Prospero and daughter Miranda have been forced to make home, and the sense of power that the exiled Duke uses over his daughter, his slave Caliban and the spirit Ariel. The design – which also features projections, sporadically flashed onto boards on three sides of the stage – along with Middle Eastern-inspired music and eerie sounds of waves crashing, wind howling and wailing voices, gives the production a dark, mysterious feel, appropriate to this tale of spirits, magic and brooding revenge.
Director Jatinder Verma has cut the play slightly and doubled up actors, so that Robert Mountford, as well as playing the intelligent, learned Prospero, also plays the foolish Trinculo; Jessica Manley wears a burkha to play Miranda, whose life is controlled by her father, but also plays Alonzo, the all-powerful King of Naples, whose son Ferdinand falls for Miranda. It is an interesting concept and the actors are adept at making the distinction between characters clear, albeit with a little help from costumes. Mountford imbues Prospero with a sense of power and bitterness, as he plots to take revenge on the King and his brother Antonio who deposed him, but is also able to give his Trinculo a bumbling, comedic touch as he wanders round the island where they are all shipwrecked.
Of the other characters, Caroline Kilpatrick’s Ariel is a whining spirit who seems close to madness, so desperate is she to free herself from Prospero’s power. Keith Thorne’s Caliban has writhing strength and touching innocence, as he both rails against Prospero and depends on him. Starting his lines in Swahili emphasises Caliban’s difference to Prospero and the shipwrecked foreigners who are immigrants in Caliban’s native land.
A fable of revenge, and ultimately forgiveness, Tara’s production of The Tempest switches from eeriness to happiness as Prospero decides to have mercy on his brother and the King, and allows the touching love that Miranda and Ferdinand find for each other.
The Tempest plays at the Arts theatre until 27 January.