When wallowing in Shakespeare in Stratford-Upon-Avon, I learned that there was an exceptional Royal Shakespeare Company production of The Tempest coming to Bath, where I am staying at present.
It was sold out at The Theatre Royal, but a total of 3 hours queuing secured me a standby ticket- and was well worth it.
What was wonderful about this production was that the RSC had combined with the South African Baxter Theatre Centre, including both black and white South Africans in cast and production. The result was an incredibly rich and exciting play with some great African actors, including Anthony Sher as Prospero and John Kani as Caliban,
This was a long awaited idea of Director Janice Honeyman, who wanted to emphasize the colonial aspects in order to relate to contemporary audiences. As she said “It is about greed, exploitation, dispossession of land, cultural plundering, racism, revenge, forgiveness, reconciliation and freedom. It sounds familiar?” Colonization had begun in the 16th Century and the story connects with the then current tales of colonization and adventures of English sailors. In the play Gonzalo discusses with Sebastian an idyllic Commonwealth without riches, poverty, metal, sovereignty etcetera – producing idle men and women but “innocent and pure”. The African imagery worked brilliantly.
And the set was- to my delight- dominated by a TREE! an African-handcrafted-tree that blended into the rocks. Janice Honeyman explains this: “Why do I see a a tree? A damaged, off-kilter tree…is it a revelation of the unravelling morass of Prospero’s mind as his power diminishes? Is it the ethereal environment of Ariel and the other-worldly spirits? Or is it the derelict domain of the disempowered Caliban? I think it is all of these, and more.”
The Designer- Illka Louw, together with the Puppetry master- Janni Younge- produced some fantastic images- amazing costumes and puppets. I only have the program photos to illustrate this, the first one showing part of the tree. To my mind they do not do justice to the wonderful splashes of colour which made this Tempest so memorable..
Images,1st3: Eric Miller, 4th RCA website.