The Tempest (and as you like it)

The Tempest
By William Shakespeare
Performed by William Hutt
Stratford Festival
May to October 2005
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Shakespeare for fun

Too many of us have bad memories of high school where we were forced to memorize passages of The Merchant of Venice, or we struggled to read and understand Hamlet.  And that’s a shame because Shakespeare wasn’t meant to be recited by rote or simply read.  Shakespeare intended his works to be acted out on stage, by experts who can interpret his meaning.  Fortunately, we have the best Shakespearean company in the world right here on our doorstep.

It doesn’t matter if we’re not familiar with the Elizabethan English of Shakespeare’s time, or that we don’t understand the slang and colloquialisms of that era.  Good actors can get the full meaning across through their facial expressions and body language.

The Tempest and As You Like It are two of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies, currently running at the Festival Theatre in Stratford.  Both plays have similar beginnings:  Two dukes who are brothers are feuding  — the “good-guy” Duke is banished, while the evil Duke takes over the Dukedom.  Both plays also have love stories involving the Dukes’ daughters.

In The Tempest, Prospero, the former Duke of Milan, has been banished to an island by his cruel brother Antonio, who was in a conspiracy with Alonso, the King of Naples, to take over the Dukedom.  Prospero’s beautiful daughter, Miranda, is on the island with him.  She’s too young to remember when her father was a duke.  Prospero has wisely used his time on the island learning magic, so when he finds out that his enemies are nearby on a ship, he conjures up a storm to shipwreck them on his island.  Also on the ship is Alonso’s son Ferdinand who falls in love with Miranda.  Eventually everyone comes together, all is forgiven and the young couple together go in a new direction.

In As You Like It, Duke Frederick takes over his older bother’s court and sends Duke Senior to the Forest of Arden.   The evil Frederick allows his niece, Rosalind, (Duke Senior’s daughter) to remain at the royal court with his daughter, her cousin, Celia.  Rosalind falls in love with Orlando but he is sent to the Forest by his greedy brothers.  So Rosalind and Celia disguise themselves and go to the Forest, as well.  Rosalind pretends to be a boy travelling with his sister.  Eventually, she reveals herself to Orlando and they, along with two other happy couples, get married.

Long time Stratford actor William Hutt plays Prospero in The Tempest.  Hutt, who is in his 80’s, has had the role at least twice before.  And although he moves slowly, he still commands the stage.  Adrienne Gould is excellent as Miranda and Jean-Michel LeGal is very good as the smitten Ferdinand.  Jacob James plays Ariel, a spirit that assists Prospero with his magic, and Stephen Ouimette plays the scary, savage Caliban.

Sara Topham is charming as Rosalind in As You Like It, and does of an excellent job of playing the girl playing the boy.  In fact, she’s much better suited to Shakespeare than she was to her role in It’s a Wonderful Life at the Grand last Christmas.  Equally captivating is Sophie Goulet as cousin Celia. Her facial expressions and comedic timing are excellent.

Despite the fact that the characters all spoke in Elizabethan English, the play was set in the 1960’s.  The young people who are kicked out of their families and go into the woods to live are all hippies, just like the ‘tuned in, turned on and dropped out’ generation.  The parallels are obvious and the comparison works well.  The costumes are a great nostalgia trip – fringed buckskin jackets, tie-dyed shirts, long flowing flower power skirts.

Shakespeare wrote lyrics for various songs in As You Like It, so the Stratford Festival asked the Bare Naked Ladies to write the music to go with the words, giving the songs a 60’s feel.  Dan Chameroy’s singing is excellent and he incorporates the songs into the action very well.

The only part of the show that doesn’t seem to fit is the array of stepladders on stage.  They are supposed to represent buildings, or staircases, and later, trees, but really they are just ugly aluminium ladders and it looks like a stagehand forgot to put them away.   Similarly, the umbrellas on the ceiling are questionable.

Nevertheless, The Tempest and As You Like It are two interesting and entertaining shows, and good venues to get re-acquainted with Shakespeare. Both are very well done by the Stratford Festival company.

“The Tempest” continues until October 28 while “As You Like It” runs until October 30, both at the Festival Theatre in Stratford.  Call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 for tickets.


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