Montreal's very own Madd Harold (lauded for his unique and creative work as artistic director of Gravy Bath Productions) has unleashed The Tempest, Shakespeare's last and –often considered — most difficult of plays — and he's done so with dignity, imagination, and flair.
Shakespeare's Tempest is metatheatre to the nth degree and contains some of Shakespeare's finest and maturest of poetry. This exotic tale finds Prospero, an exiled Duke, marooned with his books and beautiful daughter Miranda on the idyllic shores of an island paradise. Featuring gods, fairies, and the romance between Miranda and young Ferdinand, The Tempest explores the theme of freedom (all the more intriguing when you recall that it's the last of Shakespeare's plays and — in essence, the last of Shakespeare-as-playwright).
This theme of freedom is at the heart of Harold's production, on at the Saidye Bronfman from November 21 – December 6. "The Tempest," Harold says, "is about freedom. It's in there in the text, each character has a need for freedom. Caliban, Prospero's slave being the most obvious. So we are looking at freedom from different perspectives."
And to look at freedom, one has to look at imprisonment. Incorporating video, illusion, and the original songs from the period, Harold shows, in every detail, how every character is, in one way or another, imprisoned. All of the characters are first-and-foremost, imprisoned by the sea. The set then, consisting essentially of a free standing large black box containing white sand set in the middle of the stage, represents the island and is the space in which all of the characters, save for Ariel, are confined to. The characters' costumes are gorgeous–lovely work done by award winning set and costume designer Nelly Savova)–and yet they are excessive, almost too lovely, and make every character seem uncomfortably confined by them. (A fine contrast with the opening of the play when all of the characters (or is it the cast?) come out in their plain jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers) Prospero, a prison of the island, is also a prisoner to his books, Miranda, us the audience, and ultimately, himself. His book lies at his feet like a ball and chain, his robe, a gorgeous costume of materials made to look like pages from his manuscripts, weigh heavily upon him. Periodically his face is projected on the backdrop screen from a small camera hidden under the sand –a clever way to suggest how film is yet another medium, another "form" that contains or imprisons its contents.
I have to admit, it was at first unsettlingly to find the character of Ariel confined to the area behind a sheer curtain. Is he not a spirit? Should he not be flitting about the way other directors have him flitting about? But Harold proved himself right, freeing Ariel only when appropriate (it's all in the text afterall) and magnificently so.
If this is a play about freedom, how is it that the characters find that freedom? Well, that is all up to you– and believe me, it is well worth your while. With an entrancing performance by Gareth Armstrong, lovely set and costume design, and truly brilliant stage directing, Madd Harold's direction of Shakespeare's Tempest is not so much torment and trouble as it is wonder and amazement!
This, his first, and hopefully his first of many, play on the Saidye Bronfman's main stage, has Madd Harold leading a top-notch tri-generational company. The stellar cast of twelve includes the Gareth Armstrong (Prospero), the acclaimed British-trained Shakespearean whose solo show Shylock has been traveling the world with repeated success; renowned Stratford Festival actor Douglas Campbell (Gonzalo) who at the age of 82 is as spirited as ever; Yann Bernaquez (Boatswain), last seen in Gravy Bath's Kali Yuga; Greg Kramer (Antonio), an award winning novelist, actor, and director; Tristan D. Lalla (Caliban), a graduate of Dawson College and last seen in Man of la Mancha; Gordon Masten (Stephano), talented actor and music theatre performaer; Kyle MacDougall (Sebastien) who was part of Saidye "B"'s 2003 New Classical Theatre Festival; Trend Pardy (Ariel), who makes a perfect Ariel and in 2003 was nominated for a Best Actor MECCA; Moya O'Connell (Miranda), makes a great return after last appearing in Montreal in Tiger's Heart; Gareth Potter (Ferdinand) a John Abbott graduate who's been turning heads at Stratford; Andrew Shaver (Tinculo); Canadian artistic director of Sabooge Theatre; and Ivan Smith (Alonso), seen on television, film and cabaret.
At the Leanor and Alvin Segal Theatre, Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts
November 21 – December 6, 2004
Tickets: (514) 739-7944