The last show I had the chance to see while in London was Footsbarn Theatre’s Indian-style production of The Tempest at the Globe Theatre. In other words, a French company dedicated to employing circus and clown techniques was performing a Shakespeare play (at the theatre that recreates the Bard’s working space) utilizing Indian performance style while speaking in Hindi, English, French, and Dutch. If all that sounds quite dizzying or should at least qualify audience members for posts at UNESCO, you’d be quite right. But this Tempest — referred to by The Globe as The Indian Tempest — is a magical evening of theatre. If Footsbarn should call at your community, take time to see their production (whatever it is).
It is difficult to know how audience members not familiar with the play would react to this production. But as someone who is quite familiar with Shakespeare’s last text, I found it mesmerizing. The experience of seeing something at The Globe too certainly added to my enjoyment. We were groundlings that night, the air was cool, and St. Paul’s across the Thames was lit in splendor.
Reghoothaman Domodaran Pillai, speaking in a mix of Hindi and English, dominated as Prospero. He found the appropriate balance between sternness and softness. Gopalakrishnan Kundamkumarath as Ariel had the same language blend, and I often thought that he was more Puck than Ariel. But his very physical performance helped convey his character’s motivations if the mix of languages could not.
Footsbarn punctuated the evening with sitar music performed live on stage. The company recreated — by necessity, quite abbreviated — an Indian marriage ceremony for the wedding of Ferdinand (who, by the way, spoke French exclusively) and Miranda. Indian design dominated throughout.
Going in, I have to admit that I was a little hesitant about these choices. Frantz Fanon and Edward Said have both pointed to the importance of this play in the post-colonial canon. In brief, by using this lens, the Tempest dramatizes the colonizer/colonized dynamic as represented by Prospero, the European interloper, and Ariel and Caliban, the native residents. Footsbarn, though, nicely turned that relationship on its head. Here, an Indian Prospero was the master, and an English Caliban (played in cockney glory by Paddy Hayter) was the servant. A production can reveal a great deal about a play — especially a familiar one — by upending the world it depicts. And in doing so, this was the one Tempest that did what no other production has ever done for me — it brought the island alive, it became a character too. It was specific, mysterious — glorious.
The wonderful thing about theatre is (and what drives producers mad) — that a great theatrical evening comes together due to a very unique set of circumstances that are near impossible to recreate. So to write a review of Footsbarn’s production of The Tempest at the Globe may be a bit of a fool’s errand. But given the production, the performance, and the place, I had an evening of enchantment.