Over the past few decades there has been a new body of scholarship looking at The Tempest as a postcolonial text, where the Europeans are invaders subjugating Ariel and, particularly Caliban.
Asian theatre company Tara’s production has taken another slant, placing the island in the centre of a Muslim culture. This is a decidedly non-tyrannical Prospero, one more teacher than despot. The supernatural elements are underplayed, there is no staff, no books, no apparitions at the masque for this most human of Prosperos.
Director Jatinder Verma’s programme notes suggest an optimism in the play as Prospero draws on the Ariel’s desire to be free to experience a new humanity. It’s a reading at odds with the production as Caroline Kilpatrick’s Ariel is one of the stroppiest spirits I’ve ever seen; more a sulky teenager than am ethereal being, seeking liberation, as if she’s already eager to sample the joys of being human.
He also draws on parallels with the current clash between the Western and Islam worlds, a clash that is alluded to within the production. There are echoes of Guantanamo Bay in the way that Ariel binds the “three men of sin”, covering the ears, eyes and mouths to complete the sensory deprivation.
This is a tight production, running at about 105 minutes without any interval, and performed by just six actors. At times, this leads to a sacrifice in clarity; the banquet scene where the courtiers see their food snatched by a furious harpy is confused and the wedding masque is scarcely delivered, meaning that he “our revels now are ended “ speech is redundant.
Strangest of all is Miranda’s “brave new world that hath such people in it” delivered to Gonzalo and Sebastian – it’s one of the most touching moments in Shakespeare and the effect is completely lost.
Robert Mountford’s Prospero is rather under-powered : where recent productions have tended to veer between tyrant or magus, this production does neither. One has little sense of a man who is thirsting for revenge nor a man undergoing a trial of redemption. The other actors worked hard, Chris Jack, in particular, is a noble and clearly-spoken Ferdinand.
Tara’s endeavour is to be applauded, however. For all its faults, Verma brings a new slant to this most engrossing of fables. I do think it’s a production for those who know the play however; newcomers might be rather confused.
- Maxwell Cooter