Preview 17 September 1997: The Tempest, Bell Shakespeare Company directed by Jim Sharman
I think the Bell Shakespeare Company will blow up a storm this weekend with the opening of The Tempest. Jim Sharman took The Tempest to re-read while holidaying on Bali. The magic of the island worked: he came home to an invitation from John Bell to direct this production.
On Tuesday a substantial crowd, from traditional thespians to young Triple J's, heard new voices singing, saw a new conception of set design, and felt that Sharman will illuminate the Bell Company.
We heard from Sharman about more than a year's work on "ideas of great gravity expressed with marvellous lightness". Antony Ernst, the dramaturg, took us through a play which is "clearly symbolic, but it is not clear what it is symbolic of". Rather than a problem, this is an advantage because interpretations of all kinds - Prospero as the retiring Shakespeare; theatre as a microcosm of the real world; the world as a theatrical illusion; the tempest as a Jungian archetype; a play about a manipulator who wants to get his daughter on the throne of Naples - are all plausible. We can take the play at any level.
I was excited by the dynamic acting and singing, though we were given only a taste of the opening scene, by Bell and a close-knit team of six men and three women, a fascinating combination from Rachael Maza to Lani John Tupu.
Michael Wilkinson's set represents at the same time the intellectual tradition of science and the art of magic. It is Prospero's workshop, all decked in knotty timber, in which he has created a transparent island with a ladder to heaven, where we see his geometry and his philosophical words - in Egyptian, Greek, Arabic, Chinese and English.
Yet hidden in the island is music: written, directed, played and sung by Tyrone Landau - stunning, original, magical music. It crosses the boundaries from high-brow contemporary, through popular musical to husky jazz. It opens up the play to people across cultures and classes. It is the music of the spheres, the magic in the show, and I can't wait to see the full production - preview on Friday September 19; opening night Saturday September 20 at the Canberra Theatre.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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