WAY back in 1964, as part of the international Shakespeare Quatercentenary celebrations, Joyce Caton and her merry band of actors from Bournemouth and Poole took the first audience to Brownsea, ferried over by a fleet of little boats from Sandbanks to the island in Poole Harbour – and the first words they heard on the sloping sward were: “Boatswain!”
“Here, master: what cheer?”
Those same words welcomed the audience this year, for the fifth Brownsea Open Air Theatre production of The Tempest. Directed and designed by Neil Mathieson, this was BY FAR the most dramatic and spectacular yet, from the vast sails and heaving boat wrecked on the play’s mysterious island to the shades and shapes conveying the spirit Ariel to his tasks.
The Tempest is at once an access-level and a deeply complex Shakespearean play, and the one most suited to the island in Poole Harbour. It is about love and revenge, magic and bestiality, but the greatest of these if love.
Years ago, Prospero, Duke of Milan, took his eye off the ball, inviting his jealous brother Antonio to look after the kingdom while he immersed himself in books. Antonio got a taste for power and planned to have Prospero and his infant daughter Miranda put to sea in a leaky boat. Fortunately for them, the loyal Gonzalo put provisions – and books – in the boat, which drifted until it reached an island in the Mediterranean. Since then the former Duke and Miranda have been living on the island in the company of the monstrous Caliban and the ethereal Ariel.
Now is the time of retribution, as brother, usurping Duke, neighbouring king et al are on a boat passing the island when Prospero whips up a storm.
One of the “al” is Ferdinand, son of the King of Naples, and he’s the first young man Miranda has ever seen.
In this brilliant BOAT production, Rory Moncaster and Verity McCann captured the instant attraction, giggling shyness and explosion of first love more powerfully and delightfully than I have ever seen it done before (even in the stunning 2013 Globe production).
Neil Mathieson’s thoughtful, delicate, exciting and witty production revealed much that can be lost in the play, and his excellent company revelled in the mood changes.
Gareth Richards had all the complexity that Prospero needs, and his relationship with his daughter was entirely convincing in all its layers.
The words used to describe Caliban (played here by Jamie Morris) are always problematical in these PC days, but there is no making him a loveable victim. With the drunken Stephano (Chaz Butler) and the mincing Jester Trinculo (hilariously played by the versatile Brian Woolton), this island was never short of laughs.
Elizabeth McManus was an Ariel with attitude, beautifully moved and poignantly spoken.
The nightmarish Harpy scene was a visual highlight of this memorable production, which kept new audiences enthralled at the same time as pleasing us old hands.
The 2015 sellout show will be a hard BOAT to better.
Footnote. Many of the cast were also involved in the 2014 production of Henry IV, winner of the Royal Shakespeare Company southern region, and so were heading to Stratford upon Avon to perform the Gads Hill scene on Sunday night, after spending Saturday striking the Brownsea set. Joyce Caton could not have dreamed what she had started!