Art direction lets dramatic comedy brim with magic
Jennifer Lines is captivating as the sprite Ariel
by Chris Lane
One of Shakespeare’s most fantastical comedies is brought to life this summer at Bard on the Beach, in a performance sparkling with magic, along with plenty of humour and passion. Director Meg Roe, re-imagining the script after helming the same production at Bard in 2008, brings the audience under her spell with an immersive experience.
The play begins with a powerful tempest that appears to wreck a ship and leave all aboard to perish. But it is no normal storm, as it was created by a magician, Prospero, who lives with his daughter, Miranda, on an isolated island. He explains to her that he was once Duke of Milan, but was sent out to sea by his usurping brother, aided by the King of Naples – both of whom are trapped in Prospero’s storm. He allows them, and the others on the ship, to wash up on land – at his mercy.
Prospero has carefully laid out a plan for vengeance against those who sent him out to sea without even expecting him to survive. And yet once they arrive, they are the first humans he has met in years, and the most people his daughter has ever seen all at once. What remains to be seen is how much Prospero has changed in his time isolated on the island, and what his past still means to him.
His plan is largely carried out by a sprite, Ariel, who is in his service to repay him for rescuing her tortured soul. Jennifer Lines is delightful to watch as Ariel, giving a powerfully physical performance as she flits around the stage as the jittery and fair-natured sprite. She adds loads of energy and vivacity to every scene she’s in, which, fortunately for the audience, is quite a lot of scenes. While her character essentially plays second fiddle to Prospero (Allan Morgan), Lines’s very memorable performance makes Ariel the true star of the show.
Much of the comic relief is provided by Luisa Jojic and Naomi Wright as Trincula and Stephana, two completely ridiculous ladies with towering hair and expansive dresses who have gleefully salvaged some liquor. They’re both hilarious as they banter and share their booze with Caliban, a deformed witch’s son enslaved by Prospero. Caliban’s animalistic movements, as portrayed by Todd Thomson, seem at once menacing and pitiful.
The production looks beautiful, with visuals that suit the mysterious isle with its magical sprites. The costumes by Christine Reimer are classically regal for the shipwrecked nobility, and otherworldly for the island folk, who quite literally sparkle in some scenes. The visual effects work wonders for the displays of Prospero and Ariel’s magic, as well as for the dramatic opening scene of a storm battering a ship, represented just by a thick rope held in the shape of the boat’s bow. The lighting by Gerald King makes entirely new worlds out of the set, which keeps the same structure throughout the show (and presumably for A Midsummer Night’s Dream as well).
The music, from an original score composed by Alessandro Juliani, adds an ethereal air to the island. A string quartet performs live on stage, with quaint painted-wood music stands, while Lines sings beautifully as Ariel.
The music, magic and drama make for a very accessible performance of Shakespeare. While a couple of Prospero’s monologues are hard to follow unless you’re a true Bard aficionado, much of the performance is very physical – particularly with the cast of sprites and the two silly women – so the play can still be enjoyed even if you don’t catch all the nuances of the sharply-written script. Director Meg Roe has made quite a spectacle of the show, without deviating from the classic script’s message, making the most of every part of the theatre in the biggest tent at Bard on the Beach.