Tempted by the cliffs of Logy Bay

Gordon Jones
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Theatre review Shakespeare By The Sea returns to beginnings with 'The Tempest'

Shakespeare's swansong before relinquishing his position as chief playwright for the King's Men, "The Tempest" is the second full-dress production of the 2009 Shakespeare by the Sea season, returning to the cliffs of Logy Bay, where the play inaugurated the annual festival back in 1993. By contrast with the placid sea, gentle surf, and softly mewing seagulls of opening night, the play starts violently with a storm-tossed shipwreck, ingeniously executed in stylized fashion, watched over by Ariel, and steered by a no-nonsense boatswain (a convincing cameo by Glenn Gaulton).

The storm brings to the nameless island, where Prospero, Duke of Milan, and his daughter, Miranda, live in exile, his usurping brother, Antonio, and the usurper's accomplice and ally, Alonso, King of Naples. Once the malefactors and their entourage are en-compassed by the magical power of Prospero and his sprite, how will the magus manage their ordeal and how will he exact his revenge?

Shakespeare's swansong before relinquishing his position as chief playwright for the King's Men, "The Tempest" is the second full-dress production of the 2009 Shakespeare by the Sea season, returning to the cliffs of Logy Bay, where the play inaugurated the annual festival back in 1993. By contrast with the placid sea, gentle surf, and softly mewing seagulls of opening night, the play starts violently with a storm-tossed shipwreck, ingeniously executed in stylized fashion, watched over by Ariel, and steered by a no-nonsense boatswain (a convincing cameo by Glenn Gaulton).

The storm brings to the nameless island, where Prospero, Duke of Milan, and his daughter, Miranda, live in exile, his usurping brother, Antonio, and the usurper's accomplice and ally, Alonso, King of Naples. Once the malefactors and their entourage are en-compassed by the magical power of Prospero and his sprite, how will the magus manage their ordeal and how will he exact his revenge?

King Alonso (Chris Panting) believes his son Ferdinand to be drowned. His brother, Sebastian, plots with Antonio to kill Alonso and usurp his kingdom. Meanwhile, with the aid of clownish Trinculo (Mike Nolan) and drunken Stephano (Michael Collins), brutish but oddly sympathetic Caliban (Jedediah Baker) instigates a plot to murder Prospero and install Stephano as king of the isle.

Can nobody be trusted? But murder and mischief are foiled by magical legerdemain, while vengeance yields to reconciliation, reunion, and forgiveness, as presaged by the courtship and marriage of Miranda and Frederick, heirs to the antagonist Duke and King.

Played before and within the audience, up and down the slopes, among and upon the rocks, this is an athletic, enterprising, and intelligent rendering, filled with felicitous flourishes, and expressive business. The four dogs that hound the clowns are worth the price of admission alone. Even a plane en route for Torbay airport was appropriated and incorporated in the dialogue on opening night - spontaneously, an accompanying friend surmised. Anticipated and prepared for, I suspect, but nevertheless an amusing ploy.

Jennifer King's imaginative costuming is eclectic, cross-period rustic - boots, leggings, vests, long gowns - lots of earth tones, with a touch of Pre-Raphaelite for more exotic figures. In red robe and hood, toting a gnarled staff, anxiously consulting his much-thumbed notebook, Prospero works his magic to chasten and transform those who have misused him, while simultaneously testing and orchestrating the love-at-first-sight romance between the young lovers, clucking over the betrothed couple like a fussy mother hen.

The relationship between father and daughter, between Bruce Brenton's fond Prospero and Sarah Browne's luminously innocent Miranda, is affectionate, natural, and endearing, a relationship that is not successfully captured in all productions. So is the candid and charming relationship between Browne's Miranda and Ryan Walsh's equally besotted Ferdinand.

Suffused with comedy and joie de vivre, here is one of the most good-humoured and funniest versions of "The Tempest" that you will see.

This trait derives in part from the skills of the comic trio of Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo, who have the audience eating out of their hands; but, equally importantly, it flows from interpretation of the role of Prospero, a character that is often rendered as irritable, aloof, and authoritarian. Brenton's Prospero, on the contrary, is affable, good-natured, sometimes excitable - a far less angry and more likeable personality than most Prosperos - although Baker's incorrigible Caliban and Chris Hibbs' glowering Antonio push him to his limits. But even his denunciations are more in sorrow than in anger.

Brenton crafts a humanly rich reading of the part, with one of the most moving and intimate moments being his fond leave-taking of his feral sprite, Ariel, almost a second daughter, lambently played by Lynn Panting, with just the right blend of mischief and malice, of independence and loyalty. And, before she leaves, she teaches her master the meaning of compassion in the eloquently simple exchange about the distress of the castaways:

Ariel: ... if you now beheld them, your affections/Would become tender.

Prospero: Dost thou think so, spirit?

Ariel: Mine would, sir, were I human.

A long, breath-holding pause follows before Prospero's acquiescent "And mine shall."

Outdoor performance conditions were ideal on opening night, with rain holding off and no wind to blow lines out to sea. But it is also the case that audience involvement and comprehension were sustained by performers weaving their way through and around spectators, delivering lines that were consistently clear and intelligible, so that barely a word or nuance was lost.

Deftly directed by Danielle Irvine, crisply choreographed and variously blocked to take maximal advantage of the site, this bright and fresh rendering of "The Tempest" opened overlooking Logy Bay on July 17, with one of the actors reprising the role he performed 16 years ago - Peter Ayers as the sententious and ever-optimistic Gonzalo. The production continues on Fridays and Saturdays, weather permitting, until August 15, starting at 6 p.m.

With one 20-minute intermission, the play, the epilogue in which Prospero, taking his final bow, entreats the audience to set him free, and the ensemble curtain call that ensues are all over by 8:30 p.m.

The ocean view from the cliff-top site is ravishing, but, if creature comfort is important to you, dress for possible onshore breezes and carry rain gear, fly dope, and a blanket to lounge upon. If further open-air diversion is fancied by younger members of the family, on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m., on offer until August 16 in the Cabot 500 Theatre on Bowring Park, is a show for children under 12, "Fairy Tale Mix-Up," written and directed by Krista Hann.

Organizations: Baker's

Geographic location: Logy Bay, Naples, Torbay Bowring Park

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  • Stay Away
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    Logy Bay Cliffs and Trails = RNC with handcuffs out.

    So much for nature in good ole Newfoundland.

  • Paul
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    Saw one play out there. It was a great site and idea. A few humpbacks also thought so as they did some playing of their own.

  • Stay Away
    July 01, 2010 - 20:18

    Logy Bay Cliffs and Trails = RNC with handcuffs out.

    So much for nature in good ole Newfoundland.

  • Paul
    July 01, 2010 - 20:00

    Saw one play out there. It was a great site and idea. A few humpbacks also thought so as they did some playing of their own.