There is a near perfect storm of design, music, costumes, performance and direction in the Bard on the Beach production of The Tempest, that captures a singularly gorgeous vision of Shakespeare’s final play about love and forgiveness.
The first thing you will notice upon entering the iconic red and white tent at Vanier Park is Pam Johnson’s gorgeous windswept set design, with its beautiful ovals framing the equally iconic vista out to English Bay. It would be difficult to imagine a more suitable backdrop, providing an illusion of constant movement in this show of magic, where the sea takes center stage. All in white, lighting designer Gerald King uses Johnston’s set as a backdrop for some equally gorgeous effects: from the storm of desperation as the men and women aboard the ship are cast onto Prospero’s island, the blinding white of Ariel’s final speech and the menace of Prospero’s anger.
Underscoring the entire production is Alessandro Juliani’s original music and sound design. Not mere incidental or interlude, in this brave world that director Meg Roe has created it is as compelling and emotionally evocative as anything John Williams might create for the movies. With his musicians seated visibly above the playing area, they are witnesses providing the musical equivalent to the action they see below.
Christine Reimer’s costumes are equally gorgeous, providing distinct flavours for each of the groups that find themselves living or cast upon the island. It is hard not to ignore the beauty of Ariel’s fiery red hair pulled back as if its own tempest about to be unleashed, with hilarious smaller copies upon the heads of the ridiculous Trincula and Stephana that gradually dissipate as the play progresses. The court of Naples is resplendent, the young lovers are reduced to their innocence, and Prospero’s robe of magic reminds us that there is a heart beneath the hurt.
As choreographer, Rob Kitsos brings to life some of the best visuals of the evening with an imaginative opening sequence of the shipwreck that will leave you breathless.
And then there are the performances.
Allan Morgan reprises the role of Prospero from the original 2008 version upon which this 25th anniversary production is based. Morgan is not only comfortable in revisiting this man at a crossroads of vengeance and forgiveness, love and hate, but it is by far the best performance that he has given in recent memory. Relaxed, bold and layered, Morgan deservedly received his due on opening night.
Jennifer Lines once again dazzles on the Bard stage as Prospero’s captured spirit Ariel, flitting about the stage as if gravity can barely keep her down, constantly poised to do her master’s bidding.
There is a wonderful innocence and chemistry from the two young lovers played by Daniel Doheny and Lili Beaudoin and in a delightful gender-bending twist, the drunken knaves who plot with Caliban are reimagined as the equally drunk sisters Trincula and Stephana. With hilarious results, and two of the best performances of the night from Luisa Jojic and Naomi Wright, the duo have the comedic timing worthy of two Joanna Lumleys, and are as fearless as they are funny. Matched to Todd Thomson’s savage Caliban, they become a trio worthy of any road trip. The Lords of the court of Naples are bold and brash, but are at times overshadowed by the performances of Jojic and Wright.
Bringing this entire vision together is director Meg Roe, who made her directorial debut with the original Bard on the Beach production in 2008. Not having seen that original production, it is difficult to make any comparisons as to what six years might have done to change or grow her vision, but given she was nominated that year for her freshman outing as a director, it is safe to assume the decision to bring back this particular production as part of the Bard’s 25th anniversary season was a calculated one. And while Roe may have missed the opportunity to walk away with a Jessie Award in 2008, she will definitely be the one to beat at next year’s Vancouver theatre awards.
A visionary production that is as much fun to look at as it is to watch, The Tempest proves that lightning can indeed strike twice.
The Tempest by William Shakespeare. Directed by Meg Roe. A Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival production. Playing in repetory with A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Vanier Park through September 20. Visit https://bardonthebeach.org for tickets and information.