- The Tempest
Like anyone aware of the history of the Stratford Festival of Canada, I expected this production of The Tempest to serve as a moving farewell by, to, and for William Hutt. After thirty-nine seasons at Stratford, and [End Page 97] an international career as a stage actor that culminated in his earning the 1998 Wanamaker award from the new Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in England, the eighty-five year old Hutt officially announced that this season would be his last, allowing him to retire as easily the most accomplished actor in the history of this festival and even, in the view of Stratford Artistic Director Richard Monette, "the greatest living classical actor in the world." Obviously, playing Prospero one final time offered Hutt the opportunity to say goodbye not only to Stratford, but moreover to his art, as actor, and, in turn, a final opportunity for the theatre community to celebrate the career of a man who has made such an extraordinary contribution to Canadian theatre.
For the most part, this Tempest fulfilled this expectation, although, as some critics pointed out, the production was at times so dominated by Hutt that some other elements of the play seemed underdeveloped. Unlike Monette's 2002 production, which featured an elaborate masque with extremely expensive dresses for the goddesses as well as some other spectacular sets, Meredith Caron's design here seemed purposely minimalist; even the opening scene, for example, offered little illusion of a ship at sea, and no alterations at all in the aristocrats' sleek costumes. With some standard exceptions, such as the smoke-filled disappearing banquet scene, character had to be created almost solely through word, gesture, and the audience's imagination. Yet while all were competent, few of the other actors were especially memorable. Probably the most original were those performing the play's simplest roles, Miranda and Ferdinand, as Adrienne Gould effectively combined the standard naïveté and youthful wonder with an emerging sexuality that needed independence from her father, while Jean-Michel LeGal played an earnestly romantic yet also humble, almost stupid suitor who was charming, hilarious, and capable of a very un-aristocratic sincerity. Among the Italian nobles, the normally superb Bernard Hopkins brought a little too much of his strong, rhetorical tone to Gonzalo, the often foolish, naïve friend of Prospero; for better or worse, this made it easier to sympathize with the critique of his utopianism offered by Deakin's bland Sebastian or Arbuckle's coldly political Antonio, but Gonzalo's eventual sorrow seemed forced and lacked credibility. Sutcliffe and Best were amusing as the drunken jester Trinculo and butler Stephano, but never as funny or as bitter as these parts allow. Even the almost necessarily transcendent Ariel seemed earthbound, as the musical talent and precise movements of Jacob James could not make up for his lack of physical grace and inability to suggest a human soul within the magical sprite. For many of the play's critics, Stephen [End Page 98] Ouimette's ragged, bitter, and angry Caliban—who seemed closely related to the Thersites of Monette's 2003 Troilus and Cressida—was rarely sympathetic, either in the lyrical "the isle is full of noises" speech or in the lines so frequently noted by the play's postcolonial critics; "this island's mine!" raged Ouimette, and his brown leather costume, according to Caron's design notes, was intended to evoke an "almost ferocious sexuality" that made him, unlike many recent Calibans, truly frightening in attempting to assault Miranda.
It is Caliban, of course, who...