Generally Shakespeare is not for the faint of heart. With its perplexing archaisms and early 17th century humor, a perusal through a Shakespeare play often arouses only bewildered incomprehension in the modern reader (myself included). Therefore it provides a unique challenge to the director and cast willing to produce it, a challenge which the UFV Theatre program has decided to meet head-on.
UFV’s production of The Tempest is an eclectic mix of history and fantasy, high drama and blue spandex. It pulls inspiration from a number of sources, most notably the unlikely bedfellows of Minoan art and Steampunk gadgetry, to create a visually spectacular show.
At first blush I found myself wondering if director Bruce Kirkley had perhaps outdone himself, creating a show which crammed too many unlikely things into the same collage, yet the cultural kaleidoscope was more effective than might be anticipated. The vibrant orange and blue spirals of the Minoan-inspired set provide a nice contrast to the steel and steam Neapolitans, and mirror the conflict between reality and fantasy which is a continual theme in the play. The dissonance is at times jarring (as during the first scene of Act IV when a Minoan bull dance is performed before an appreciative audience of Greek gods), but overall it provides a beautifully fresh vision.
The fundamental key, in my opinion, to a successful Shakespeare production is the cast’s ability to “speak” the lines rather than recite them. The proper emphasis and phrasing can turn an otherwise unintelligible line into a piece of comic genius, yet the talent is terrifically hard to develop. I am therefore very impressed by the level of competence shown by UFV’s actors in their memorization and delivery of Shakespearean English. Gabriel Kirkley, in his role as Caliban, is a particular standout, transcending the four-century gap between playwright and audience effortlessly. Also brilliant are the portrayals of the drunken buffoons Trinculo and Stephano (Eli Funk and Ron Jackson respectively) who provide most of the laughs in the play.
One of the advantages of Steampunk is the opportunity for fantastic props and costumes. With steam-operated jetpacks, a mechanical arm, and a variety of other gear-ridden accessories, The Tempest is a richly detailed production. The costumes are just as appealing, traversing a full range from Antonia’s (Natasha Ray) military trench-coat (very Reich-babe) to Prospero’s (Glen Pinchin) dazzling magical robe and gnarled staff. Puzzlingly, the only character whose wardrobe was underwhelming was that of Caliban, for whom a vibrant orange bodysuit is not nearly enough. Caliban is generally referred to as a “monster” and is even confused for a “fish,” yet neither of these descriptions found grounding in his costume.
Much of the emotional appeal in The Tempest is created by the fairytale love story between Prospero’s daughter Miranda (the beautiful Danielle Warmenhoven), and the Neapolitan Prince Ferdinand (Dylan Coulter). The play relies on their ability to create chemistry, and the two do not disappoint. Indeed the innocence of Miranda is one of the more poignant aspects of the piece, especially when contrasted against the machinations of Prospero’s other daughter and betrayer, Antonia. Despite the simplicity of Ferdinand and Miranda’s love (Ferdinand is the only eligible male Miranda has ever met), it is beautifully portrayed.
Ultimately UFV’s production of The Tempest is exactly that, a storm of cultures and influences, colours and creatures, technologies and fantasies. Like all good Shakespeare interpretations it melds the historical and the modern, weaving them into a creation which admits its roots while maintaining relevance to the contemporary audience. Hats off to UFV theatre for once again providing us with a very sophisticated piece of theatre, and a spectacular show besides.
will run until March 27 at the theatre on the Chilliwack campus, with tickets selling at between $13 and $16. To reserve tickets call 604-795-2814 or email: email@example.com.