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Shakespeare Quarterly 57.3 (2006) 318-343

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Shakespeare Onstage in England:

March to December 2005

Theatrical headlines in 2005 welcomed Kevin Spacey's Shakespeare debut at the Old Vic, Michael Gambon's long-awaited Falstaff at the Olivier, David Warner's first Shakespeare on the English stage since 1966, and (from a different galaxy) Sienna Miller's first appearance on the London stage.

This year's review, however, opens with a valediction: to close his decade as artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe, Mark Rylance bade farewell as Prospero in a season of late plays. Prospero might seem the obvious final role for an actor-artistic director, but in Rylance's case there was another significant element: Prospero was the first role he played on the Globe site in Phoebus Cart's touring production of The Tempest (1991).1 In 2005, the ambitious project took inspiration from Noel Cobb's Jungian Prospero's Island: The Secret Alchemy at the Heart of "The Tempest," excerpted at length in the program.2 According to director Tim Carroll, Prospero, Stephano, and Alonso (all played by Rylance) need "to learn to accept" Caliban, Ferdinand, and Gonzalo (all played by Alex Hassell) and "to learn to let go" of Ariel, Miranda, Antonio, and Trinculo (played by Edward Hogg).3 The execution of this thesis must have baffled many audience members. Too much of the narrative was unclear and devoid of dramatic power, most of the characters were poorly defined, and the trio of actors was not well balanced. The scenes with Trinculo, Stephano, and Caliban worked fairly well; the scenes with the shipwrecked nobility confused even more than usual. Costuming drew on three periods: Jacobean attire for the actors, contemporary jeans and black leather jackets for the three dancers, and classical costumes for the six vocalists. A rope hanging from above represented the ship's rigging, a pendulum, or the Fates. The dancers fulfilled various theater-centered functions: they signaled a change of role by providing props or moving an actor from one position to another; they mimed waves, a storm, and props (such as the logs Ferdinand carries); they played the dogs; they crouched over to support the drunken trio. But they also fulfilled metaphysical tasks. As the Fates, they dragged Prospero onstage to conjure the storm and together with [End Page 318] an angry Ariel—"I and my fellows / Are ministers of Fate"4 —confined Alonso in a noose and swung him about in the air. The production raised a question about the Globe's responsibility to novice theatergoers: should passages of criticism be essential to understanding a performance?

If not totally successful, the concept behind Kathryn Hunter's Pericles—splitting the eponymous character into Young Pericles and Old Pericles and introducing Gower as an omnipresent commentator and agitator—was far easier to realize. Until the sea burial, Old Pericles5 accompanied Gower. Challenged by Gower, Old Pericles justified his departures from Antioch and Tyre and endured Gower's accusation that he was an asylum seeker; he shunned Antiochus's unhappy daughter, who pleaded with and kissed him in Antioch, stalked him to Tyre, and reappeared on board ship after Thaisa's death; he listened to Cleon's lament and wandered among the starving Tharsians; he tended the shipwrecked Young Pericles on the shores of Pentapolis; he helped prepare Thaisa for burial and bade her farewell. Old Pericles' assumption of the role of wandering widower led naturally to the disappearance of Young Pericles.

The gains in humor and elucidation did not outweigh the losses. It was unclear how much of his journey, real and spiritual, Old Pericles relived, and regretted, under Gower's guidance. By eliminating Young Pericles after Thaisa's death and scripting no further conversations between Pericles and Gower, the production suggested that Old Pericles had no knowledge of events after the second shipwreck. Yet in preshow business he cradled an urn, presumably the one given him by Dionyza and allegedly containing Marina's ashes. Patrice Naiambana's easygoing West African Gower, a portrayal which drew on the tradition of...


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