Bard on the Beach's The Tempest, cast photo

Illusions and conspiracies continue at the opening night of The Tempest, Bard on the Beach’s second remounted play of its celebrated 25th season. Comparable to Bard’s delightfully imaginative A Midsummer Night’s Dream (currently performing at the festival’s BMO Mainstage Theatre), Shakespeare’s The Tempest is chock full of magic, romance, and laughs.   

However, instead of supernatural spirits intervening with the destinies of man, this tragicomedy revolves around a man who manipulates supernatural powers to manifest a desired prospect. Aptly named Prospero, the Duke of Milan has been wrongfully supplanted by his brother, Antonio, and cast out to perish at sea with his daughter Miranda. 

Bard on the Beach's The Tempest, cast photo

They wind up surviving on an enchanted island where Prospero patiently plots revenge with mystical arts and a yearning for justice. 12 years later, the Duke (turned magician) is finally able to seize his chance, when a ship carrying the usurping Antonio passes by the island. 

The play opens as Prospero enters the stark white stage, draped in a streaming cape of sea foam and aqua. The silence is shattered by a roaring thunderclap as Prospero conjures a tempest that strands the ill-fated ship’s passengers at his mercy. So begins this tale, full of mirth and redemption, where man is able to hold a mirror to himself and weigh forgiveness over retribution. 

Prospero’s character is reprised by the formidably proficient Allan Morgan, who dominated the same role in 2008. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Morgan sashayed around as Starveling, the tailor with a fluffy cat tucked underneath his arm. What an impressive contrast to the authoritative and looming figure of Prospero, the magician! His portrayal had the audience captivated, holding on to every word that seemed to drip like honey from his fingertips. In praising Morgan’s accomplishment, Artistic Director Christopher Gaze jokingly suggests, “Perhaps I’ll try playing Prospero next time.” 

Jennifer Lines
[Jennifer Lines]

The multi-talented Jennifer Lines renews her role as the delicate and obedient Ariel. Although understood as Prospero’s slave, she nonetheless serves as a bridling force against his raging conscience. Lines has deliberately branded the airy sprite with an idiosyncratic leg twitch, reminiscent of fragile dragonflies. Ariel’s songs allow her melodic, almost hypnotic voice to be showcased here. 

Luisa Jojic, Todd Thomson, Naomi Wright
[Luisa Jojic, Todd Thomson, Naomi Wright]

Ian Butcher is toothsomely evil as the corrupt Antonio. The glint of malice in his eyes can be seen as far back as row Q! Todd Thomson’s rendition of the crude, deformed Caliban imbues pitiable qualities into the vile creature as he slinks about the stage. 

Director Meg Roe stamps her feminine mark on the male-dominated play by making a couple of very successful comedic substitutions. Original roles of Trinculo, a jester, and Stephano, a steward, have become drunken, pompous sisters Trincula and Stephana. As flakey and textured as filo pastry, the hilariously saucy panache of Luisa Jojic and Naomi Wright inject rollicking jocular elements into an otherwise tragic storyline. 

Luisa Jorjic, Naomi Wright; Jennifer Lines in background
[Luisa Jorjic, Naomi Wright; Jennifer Lines in background]

Spectacular performances aside, much of this rendition’s magic also comes from the innovative, behind-the-scenes details. The cast is once again sumptuously costumed by Christine Reimer. Natural, free-flowing fabrics in organic shades embrace the island inhabitants while the Court garments are constricting and luxuriously gilded. 

Whether coordinating the dance of the sisters or timing the sprites to change the scenery, Choreographer Rob Kitsos and Stage Manager Stephen Courtenay ensure seamless, entertaining onstage transitions.

The exquisitely-arched set that simulated a whimsical dream cloud in Midsummer has been re-imagined to resemble the inside of a seashell, by scenic designer Pam Johnson, with the addition of softly-etched rocked and water formations. The space even has a niche to accommodate live musicians (Mark Beaty, Molly MacKinnon, Isabelle Roland, Marcus Takizawa, Erin Wong) who deliciously executed the meticulous musical choices of Alessandro Juliani

Lily Beaudoin
[Lily Beaudoin]

The decision to keep the platform stark allowed Gerald King to work his particular brand of lighting magic upon the stage curvatures. As Antonio’s stranded party is serenaded by island creatures, the intense, playful coral luminescence bleed into sanguine hues when a winged Ariel enters with threatening declarations. As Prospero sheds his burden of vengeance, the protruding proscenium glows white hot, like the band of a halo. The culmination of this silent chemistry of colour, design, movement and lighting is witnessed during the fantastical wedding scene.

At the end of opening night, Christopher Gaze christened the production with one word – masterful. The word is befitting in so many ways, from cast to crew to designers. Their masterful immersion and dedication to their craft has brewed a monumental Tempest waiting to be experienced on the BMO Mainstage at Vanier Park through September 18

Photos by David Blue.

About Our Contributor Cora Li

Cora Li

Cora dabbles in arts, technology, food, and travel. She loves that Vancouver offers a vast playground for exploring all of her passions. Cora’s most memorable job to date was working with VANOC during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

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