Tag Archives: The Tempest

A Tempest for Our Not So Brave New World

Better late than never. Alas, because of the political maelstrom in which we find ourselves, I can only respond to the production on a personal level.

On Friday night, January 20, 2017, I had the opportunity to see Donmar Warehouse’s production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. Beyond being an exemplary production of the Bard’s final play, it also provided a much-needed salve for my devastated soul.

Earlier that day, I had gone to the #ArtSpeaks teach-in at the Museum of Modern Art as he who shall not be named was being sworn in. The institution’s conversation about how culture can affect positive political change was uplifting, though I found myself nearly breaking down into tears. It was Phyllida Lloyd’s insightful production and the cabaret that followed that got me back on my feet.

Much has already been written on Lloyd’s deployment of an all-female cast (for this and two other Shakespeare plays: Julius Caesar and Henry IV, Part I) or setting the play in a women’s play. I must confess that I did not see the previous two works, but I found this Tempest to be staggering. Of course, Harriet Walter owned Prospero, but plaudits must be extended to the entire cast including Jane Anouka as transcendent Ariel, Sophie Stanton as a chav Caliban, and Karen Dunbar as a very Scottish Trinculo. The prison setting added a great deal to the play, as the story of The Tempest was an escape from the monotony and cold harshness of their daily existence. Lloyd revels in the magical possibilities of the play with a calypso rendition of “full fathom five” and an eerily gorgeous dance between Miranda and Ferdinand.


Walter is, of course, front-and-center through most of the proceedings. Unlike most of her male counterparts, she found the vulnerability beneath the sternness of Prospero. The most surprising – and welcome – moment can be attributed to Walter and Lloyd’s putting the utmost focus on Shakespeare’s ideas of mercy and forgiveness. Often a throw-away moment in other Tempests, Prospero forgiving Antonio served as a much-needed catharsis. That the prisoner – Hannah – who plays Prospero must continue her imprisonment (for apparently IRA-related activity) while all her compatriots find their freedom provides an elegiac coda to the whole proceeding; having her lie on a cot while reading Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed was a nice meta-touch.

After performing for two hours without intermission, the cast then performed a cabaret in the lobby. How they found the energy, I know not. It was a powerful continuation of the thematic trajectory of the production. Music and comedy created a sense of community between audience and actors. But the highlight belonged to Walter again who read Shakespeare’s monologue from The Book of Thomas More when More stops a mob from doing violence against refugees. “This is the strangers’ case/ And this your mountainish inhumanity.” As I said, salve for the soul.

Brave New Malabar

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.