The storm has broken

The Chekhov International Festival ensemble, Cheek by Jowl’s sister company, began their UK tour of Shakespeare’s _The Tempest_ at our very own Warwick Arts Centre this week. Performed in Russian with English surtitles and directed by Declan Donnellan, the production was raw and vital, living up to Cheek by Jowl’s international reputation for stripping away the style and baring the substance of theatre.

The set, designed by Nick Ormerod, was a barren triptych of three walls containing three swinging doors, a smattering of sand and a huge foreground of decking, perfectly suited to the play’s main prop: buckets of water. Whilst buckets of water thrown over the cast provided much of the slapstick hilarity, water was also used on stage to wash the would-be lovers Miranda and Ferdinand at separate points in the play, in moving renditions of humanity stripped of all ornamentation, dedicated entirely to the object of love.

Anna Khalilulina’s performance as Miranda gave new energy to what can otherwise become one of Shakespeare’s most submissive and whimsical female parts. Instead of soaking up her father’s words like a sponge, her opening scene has the two slipping around on the wet decking, half pouncing, then desperately clinging to each other. Already the audience know they’re watching a relationship where both fear and love can be used to control others and where, to these outcasts of civilised society, there is nothing to stop each from being used to the most extreme extent.

Khalilulina’s Miranda is a disquieting woman, passionate and full of rage, who throws her bridal bouquet to the ground, and departs from the play with an unexpected burst of emotion, scrambling to return to savagery, and having to be wrestled, kicking and screaming, off the stage by her fiancé. In this production, the return to civilisation is like a painful re-birth for both father and daughter, for it is both that will lose the power and vitality they have enjoyed on the island.

_The Tempest_ is thought to be the last play which Shakespeare wrote alone, and as such it is often remarked by critics that Prospero, as supreme creator of stories, has an “art” much resembling that of Shakespeare himself, a playwright and director of artificial lives. Donnellan has his Prospero not only halt the performance of the spirits he has conjured, his own created scene as it were, but actually seemingly pause the performance of _The Tempest_ itself, momentarily bamboozling the audience, as Prospero calls ‘stop’ on the scene, and the house lights go up in a superb moment of surreal, self-reflexive theatre, which is as disorientating as it is laugh-out-loud funny.

That is probably the best thing about this production- the fact that for all its cleverness, its comedy and its humanity speak as loudly as if the play were performed in English. The raucous, self-seeking comedy duo, Stephano and Trinculo, are outrageously realised as gluttons of the capitalist world, gorging themselves on ludicrous amounts of alcohol and riches, in the form of shiny suits, designer sunglasses and mobile phones. They are hopelessly and hilariously wrapped up in a pipe dream of power for the hours they stumble and shamble before us over the island.

There is an uncanny stillness to Andrey Kuzichev’s understated Ariel in a simple suit, seemingly divisible into an entire band of cloned men, who play the different instruments that provide the enchanting music of _The Tempest_. In this production, the sounds of the island are the essentials of musical sound: bare, rhythmical, wordless folk, with sharp dissonant chords from an accordion and occasionally the sweet chimes of a xylophone, keeping the audience spellbound from beginning to end, and placing the island in a timeless dreamscape, both tribal and modern.

_The Tempest_ is continuing its UK tour, and will be at the Oxford Playhouse next week, finishing its tour at the Barbican Theatre, London from the 7th to the 18th of April. Even if you’re bored to the back teeth with Shakespeare, you should definitely take a look at this fresh production, which gives his last play the vitality and humanity it deserves and splashes cold water in the face of those who think theatre is a dead medium. Ignore the dated videos, where Ariel skips around with a lute, and see this production which conclusively reaffirms Shakespeare’s place in a world of postmodernism and i-phones.

====================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================

Related Posts

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *