Friday, April 09, 2010

Review of The Bridge Project's The Tempest
8 April 2010, Esplanade Theatre

First and foremost, I enjoyed it.
The Theatre looked quite full when I stole a quick glance at the end of the show, but sadly, the audience itself was rather sedate.
As the Life! review pointed out, there was a standing ovation on opening night.
Unfortunately, my bunch was not as generous yesterday. At least not the first few rows.
I was seated in the centre of row 4, an excellent vantage point that afforded detailed views of everything from the actors' perspiring foreheads to fountains of spittle during the more emotional scenes.
While The Tempest doesn't boast as many big stars as 2009's The Winter's Tale - no Ethan Hawke or Rebecca Hall - I was nevertheless very excited about seeing Christian Camargo, aka the Ice Truck Killer aka Dexter's long-lost older brother on the Showtime TV series' ground-breaking first season.
And he did not disappoint at all.
As Ariel, the airy spirit who serves Prospero ( Stephen Dillane ), Camargo clearly has the most stage time. Even when he has no dialogue, he is almost always lurking nearby, observing each scene as it unfolds. Some of this is faithful to the play itself, as Ariel is known to manipulate characters as well as physical surroundings ( including the weather ) as he sees fit. However, there is one segment where Ariel should've been absent, but instead, Camargo climbs up to a seat atop a rather unstable-looking metal frame, where he perches serenely until the scene ends.
I just couldn't help thinking to myself: okay, IF he looses his footing, I will most definitely offer my medical services. :)
It's unfortunate that I haven't had many opportunities to see Shakespearean plays done by true experts. For this reason, I'm unable to compare The Bridge Project's version of The Tempest with any other production ( the RSC's, for example ).
But I'm starting to see a definite pattern here - director Sam Mendes has a penchant for dressing his actors in modern garb rather than costumes that are more befitting the actual era the plays are set in. No strong objection there, but I do find it a little odd seeing Prospero, Gonzalo and even Ariel in tailored suits. Perhaps more experienced theatre-goers would consider this quite normal?
Performances-wise, Camargo, in my humble opinion, is clearly the star of the show.
Yes, he does have an advantage in terms of material - Ariel is the most intriguing member of the cast of characters - but I also found his stage presence utterly mesmerizing.
Tall and lean with one of the most intense stares I have ever seen, his concentration never wavered as he paced the stage like a graceful but ravenous panther.
I was rather surprised by the pitch of his voice - higher than what I remember from Dexter - but this takes nothing away from Ariel's two outbursts: one where he lashes out at Prospero for not releasing him from servitude, another where he appears to the shipwrecked noblemen in the form of a frightening harpy. Rest assured that his tone alters accordingly ( and very significantly ), and that he is effectively temperamental and terrifying on both counts.
Another surprise: Camargo's singing ability. He has a few verses scattered throughout the play, with one prominent solo in the final act. A rich, pitch perfect vibrato. I got goosebumps! :)
Dillane's turn as Prospero is - and again, this is just my own opinion - a tad limp. Obviously, he chose to play his role in this manner ( and likely with Mendes' full support ), but the play itself seems to portray Prospero as a more fiery character, or at least that's my interpretation.
But then, I like my protagonists emotionally overwrought. Like Sir Ian McKellan's King Lear, and Simon Russell Beale's King Leontes. So why not Dillane's Prospero?
Another standout performance comes from Ron Cephas Jones, as the creepily sullen Caliban. Love the makeup and stick-on fingernails!
Another one of Prospero's servile creatures, but described as the physical opposite of Ariel, with a violent streak to boot ( he once tried to rape Prospero's young daughter, Miranda ). Jones first appears in the front left corner of the theatre, crouched near one of the box seats in the stalls section, with only his face illuminated by a spotlight. Although I'd already seen his press photos for the play, he looks very different in real life. Throw in the gravelly voice ( I do wonder if he normally sounds like that ), the nails/claws, the evil grin and the manner of speech ( a definite nod to the slavery era ), and the result is something quite remarkable indeed.
I found myself despising Caliban, but also pitying him at the same time. My feelings weren't quite as ambiguous when reading the play, so kudos to Jones for altering my perspective so effectively.
Juliet Rylance is appropriately sweet as Miranda, and I distinctly saw tears on her face when she pleaded with Dillane's Prospero to halt the storm and have mercy on the ship's passengers.
Miranda's age is estimated by Shakespearean experts to be around 15, and it is never easy for an adult to convey the fluctuating emotions and lovestruck fancy of a teenage girl. But Rylance delivers a sincere performance with just enough sprinkle of girlish rapture, without teetering into an annoying whiner.
And since I've seen Jennifer Garner's disastrous turn as Roxane on Broadway's Cyrano de Bergerac, I can safely say that Rylance is a hundred times better.
The comical Trinculo and Stephano ( Anthony O'Donnell and Thomas Sadoski ) have their moments in a couple of raucously funny scenes. I hope the audience picked up on the melody from Beyond The Sea, which Stephano drunkenly sang as he staggered on-stage. Thought that was hilarious. :D
The celebratory masque in Act 4, which features the goddesses Iris, Ceres and Juno, is a lovely vision indeed. There is beautiful music, followed by a joyous folk dance. Definitely more restrained than a party scene in last year's The Winter's Tale, which had a hillbilly flavour and degenerated into vulgar imagery involving strategically positioned balloons.
The more peripheral characters failed to make much of an impression on me. Most glaringly, Ferdinand ( Edward Bennett ) has zero chemistry with Miranda. In addition, Gonzalo ( Alvin Epstein ) is a little too frail for my taste, while Prospero's dastardly brother, Antonio ( Michael Thomas ) came across as really bland.
Some good stuff that's unrelated to acting:
- 2 wonderful musicians who provided an almost constant soundtrack and sounded like an entire orchestra at times;
- that, coupled with the lack of an intermission, gave the production a flowing, film-like quality ( though my mother panicked somewhere in Act 4 when it became quite obvious she wasn't getting a toilet break :));
- Christian Camargo dressed in an evening gown ( want to know what I'm talking about? go see the play, heh! )
So is it better than The Winter's Tale? I would say yes. Despite the lack of Hollywood A-listers, I'm glad that Mendes chose a more well-known Shakespearean work for his second Bridge Project tour, and cast Camargo and Jones in the play's most compelling roles.
2011 will certainly be the year to watch, when Kevin Spacey joins the cast - as one of the leads, I hope!
I am most eager to see a comedy next time round, but considering Spacey's dramatic skills, something tense and powerful would showcase his thespian talents perfectly.
But most importantly, 2011 will also be the year I will see at least two Bridge Project performances at the Esplanade, because I've waited so long to see the great Mr. Spacey on-stage, and one evening with him is just not enough!
For those who're interested, you can also read my reviews of the RSC's King Lear ( 21 July 2007 ) and The Bridge Project's The Winter's Tale ( 26 March 2009 ), listed in the archives on the right.

1 comment:

Uni said...

I watched the play on wed afternoon too :) meant to blog my thoughts that day but wasn't in the right mood to finish it. lol. maybe i'll finish it tonight, we'll see.