Last night I found myself in a backyard by Carlaw and Dundas E, transported to a far away island, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the leering city to see Ravenous Theatre’s debut production of Shakespeare’s: The Tempest.
The Backyard Studio, love child of Vanessa Shaver, and Guifre Bantjes-Rafols, is a great space for some relatively fresh air compared to the heavy huff of pollutants that typifies Toronto. Seating a full house of about fifty, Shakespeare’s magical island fantasy plays out on green grass, and under the shade of a young maple, and a foreboding iron arch.
Director Jesse Beam and his associates at Ravenous Theatre are keen to create stylized, indie theatre in uncanny locations, and Beam wasted no time in this endeavour. As the ship’s crew (find a synopsis of the play HERE) files out to the mostly organic stage, they all take near tableau position, followed by a slow mime of certain acts aboard. The miming may have played out a little longer than patience, and interest could be bothered with, but this was due mainly to the slow filing of latecomers to the audience. Perhaps a greater commitment to characterization in this stylized opener, with clearer action, and a gentle sway of the ship could have held me captive, as in later flashbacks, done in similar mime. Though kudos must be given to the elements as the ocean-faring effect was amplified by the distant gulls calling from the Food Basics parking lot not far from the stage.
Enter The Storm: and from above, wavering sheet metal, and the distant hum of motorbikes give just the right atmosphere for the company to break, and scramble about the ship. Add to this the thrum of a tribal drum, the conjuring works of Prospero, and the intense imp Ariel riding atop the imposing Caliban to toss the company this way and that, and you find the makings of a beautifully styled storm with minimal effects, and magnificent movement to be applauded throughout the piece, thanks to movement coach, Zachary Murphy at the helm of much of this magnificence.
I assume not the reason for their casting, but the fantastic blue eyes of Prospero (Michael-David Blostein), and his daughter Miranda (Lena Maripuu) gave an interesting intensity to both characters in, of course, clearly different ways. Perhaps in like way, the gorgeous green eyes of Ariel (Magalie R Bazinet), though dulled by her magical makeup, added to this aquatic affair. Happy that they did not shy away from Prospero’s blatant racism towards his slave Caliban, I must applaud Ucal Shillingford for apparently entering the cast near to the last minute, and giving an interestingly tortured performance.
Though I’d have liked to be able to understand the whole of Ariel’s nymph song near to the beginning of the play, the choral harmonies, in stunning stereo, filled in the gaps and were beautiful. Thanks must go to the ensemble for the music as well as specifically Francois Macdonald for the composition of his ‘Full Fathom Five’ melody.
A focus, of course, must be set on Prospero. Harmed by the people he loved, and left adrift to find the setting of the play, he becomes a dark and tortured character who must control every aspect of not only the people around him, but even of his surroundings. Thriving on the ability to manipulate, and control, and conjure, Prospero could almost be said to be a villain, were it not for the eventual happy end of the piece (after over 400 years, spoilers don’t exist). With such command of will, one might expect a likewise commanding voice, which Blostein has in spades, and with his somehow burning blues, the effect is even clearer, but cut somewhat short in his somewhat scrambling physicality, moved easily about by other characters almost like a chess piece. I wished for his physical prowess, but I relieved him of that duty, and accepted the physical phenoms of Ariel and Caliban.
The drunken foppery of Stephano, and Trinculo was indeed amusing, more by the subtleties of Stephano (Patrick Horan), and much less by the gross attempts of grandeur of Trinulo (Rochelle Reynolds). Unsure if a directorial choice, or that of the actor, Trinculo was the only character to continually address the audience, and the delivery often came across as an apology for having to engage us, and was therefore batted to the side so that we could get to the meat of the buffoonery in Stephano.
Perhaps the greatest inconsistency was that of wardrobe, which was decided on by the ensemble. More to the point, I’m sure it was decided on by a shoestring budget, but the mix-match of the company did certainly pull me from the opening mime aboard the ship. Given that this is the most glaring inconsistency though, is a good sign for a show, and perhaps a slag on me for my inability to fully suspend my disbelief.
All in all, the cast was mostly well weighted within the fantastical reality in which they found themselves, and to perform in the open air, on the ground with us the audience, made for a more engaging piece of theatre than your typical proscenium arch…though there was indeed an arch that Ariel found very employable in her flash, and fanciful movement.
An unfortunately short run for a show, The Tempest plays tonight, and tomorrow afternoon. For more information, go HERE. “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” So do support this new theatre company, and settle yourself down to this dream within a dream. “Thought is free”, but indie theatre isn’t.