By Lori Bosworth
William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, directed by Jeremy Hutton, opened at Hart House Theatre on November 5, 2014. The Bard’s comedy, the last play he supposedly wrote, focuses on Prospero, the deposed king who is banished to an island when his brother usurps his Crown. There he must raise his daughter, Miranda. Prospero uses his magic to control the inhabitants of the island, Caliban and Ariel, and to create a storm that will draw his enemies to the island where he can ultimately bring them to justice. The play’s themes include European colonization, dreams vs. reality and knowledge vs. power.
The play opens amid a scene of destruction as the ship carrying the Duke and his courtiers has weathered the storm and landed upon an uncivilized island. Joe Pagnan’s dynamic stage, featuring the remains of the vessel, and Joseph Patrick’s spine-tingling lighting, effectively establish the dramatic tone of the play. Island nymphs sport white-powdered hair and Lady-Gaga-like ethereal outfits, highlighting the magical quality of the island and which also serve to ease their transition to background figures in many scenes. Choreographer Ashleigh Powell’s African dance routines highlight the theme of colonization.
There were problems in the middle of Act 1 with plodding passages that caused a lull in activity. Fortunately, Act 2 provided much comedic relief as Caliban, Stephano and Trincolo engaged in their boozed up bumbling. William Foley, Paulo Santalucia and Cameron Laurie respectively excelled in their physical comedy as they performed their inebriated antics.
Andrei Preda was perfectly cast as the dashing, charismatic Ferdinand, projecting confidence and honour. It’s easy to see why Miranda falls for him instantly. Peter Higginson’s Prospero perhaps lacked the formidability I would have liked to have seen, but otherwise turned in a solid performance. Katherine Fogler’s Miranda was not as soft and sheltered as one would have imagined, but she did showcase the independence required to confront Prospero.
The strongest performance belonged to Amaka Umeh as Ariel. Umeh infused Ariel with dainty expressiveness and volatility of character. She raised the drama to a crescendo in Act 3, Scene when, as a crazed Ariel, she materializes at the banquet to surprise Alonso, Gonzalo, Antonio and Sebastian. Umeh was also able to display her considerable talents as a dancer and singer in the role. The physically demanding part saw the actress slip from the top of a barrel in a prop mishap, drawing blood from her ankle and shin. Kudos to Umeh for continuing in her role that evening despite being in a lot of pain.
Despite some sluggish parts, Hart House Theatre’s The Tempest can be applauded for some strong performances, outstanding staging and sharp comedic turns. It’s a fun evening.
The Tempest is being performed at Hart House Theatre at the University of Toronto until November 22, 2014.