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Reviewed by:
  • The Tempest
  • Silver Damsen
The Tempest Presented by AandBC Theatre Company at Tryon Festival Theatre, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois. October 11–13, 2007. Directed by Gregory Thompson. Music by Amy Finegan. Set Design by Colin Peters. Costumes by Hilary Lewis, based on original designs by Sophie Jump. Movement by Jem Wall. UK Producer, Roy Luxford. Production Manager, David Ferrier. Company Stage Manager, Louie Whitemore. With David Fielder (Prospero), Louise Collins (Miranda), The Company (Ariel), Jem Wall (Caliban), Richard Heap (Alonso), Phil Cheadle (Ferdinand), Richard Hansell (Sebastian), Tom McGovern (Antonio), Robert Lloyd (Gonzolo), Adrian (Finn den Hertog), Peter Kenny (Lord Stephano), Rhys Meredith (Trinculo), Amy Finnegan (A jester, Master of a Ship), Michael Sheldon (Boatswain), The Company (Mariners, Spirits).

Gregory Thompson’s The Tempest was a truly remarkable production—one that absolutely anyone interested in drama of any period or in Shakespearean texts, in particular, should beg, borrow, or bribe their way to see. Thompson has been known as the intuitive, insightful, intelligent, and, as he admits, himself, very lucky, Artistic Director of the AandBC Theatre Company since he founded it in 1989. As a whole, his Tempest provided exceptional performances from the actors and meaningful interpretations of larger and smaller textual cruxes, as well as provocatively destabilized normalized audience/actor relationships for startlingly new effects. The audience seating arrangements were central to this destabilization: 200–250 painted, cork-topped Guinness barrels placed strategically on the stage itself. Scenery was nonexistent and props were minimal. [End Page 89] A large balloon of a lamp hovered over the center of the stage; ten feet downstage, a twelve-by-four-foot platform, as high as the top of the barrels, served as an acting area; another smaller platform was located twenty feet upstage from the center. The barrels were directly under the balloon; they surrounded the platforms and they circled the perimeter of this locus of action. While many of the longer speeches took place on these platforms, actors also spent a good deal of the time walking between the barrel-seated audience members, especially those seated underneath the balloon. The barrels were also so close together and so close to the platforms that David Fielder (a magnificent Prospero) walked between the barrels before Act One officially began to test their location, and not infrequently asked a member of the audience to stand so that the barrel could be repositioned. Similar to the experiences of the most exclusive patrons of the seventeenth century, but with far more complicated effects, the audience was allowed a very special intimacy with the actors, one that placed the audiences’ subjective responses to the actors’ performances in constant flux. Spectators were perpetually amazed by their own fluctuating attraction and repulsion to these wonderfully outlined characters, from the heartbreakingly sympathetic portrayals of Alonzo (Richard Heap) and Gonzolo (Robert Lloyd) to the chilling and mesmerizing depictions of evil in Sebastian (Richard Hansell) and Antonio (Tom McGovern).

While the entire performance was dazzling, the use of multiple Ariels was perhaps the most unusual feature of the play, making the seemingly impossible stage performance of Ariel’s lack of a concrete human body tangible. All of the actors learned the whole of Ariel’s speeches, and then, following the Folio punctuation, took impromptu turns speaking. At times, several actors would speak for several sentences in a row, and then a single actor would pick up the next sentence. The sound effect was greater than the sum of its parts, creating an ever changing and echoing voice, more resonant than if all of the actors had spoken all of the lines in unison or if a single actor had carried the role alone. These sound effects were accentuated by staging. The Ariels surrounded the audience, flitting in and out of the crowd. There was no single focus of audience attention. The introduction to the Ariels in Act One heightened this displacement even more. While Miranda dozed under Prospero’s spell the eleven other members of the cast surrounded the audience’s outer perimeter, appearing to fly through the air and towards the audience as half of the ensemble leapt into the arms and onto the backs of the other...


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