Monday, 29 July 2013

Theatre review: Indian Tempest (Footsbarn / Globe to Globe)

The Globe's encore Globe to Globe season continues to bring back productions from various countries, and as I'm sure you can tell from the title, Indian Tempest hails from France. Footsbarn bring an international cast to the story of Prospero (Reghoothaman Domodaran Pillai,) exiled Duke of Milan, and the magical island he's since become ruler of. He wants his original land back though (despite not having given two shits about ruling it back when it was actually his job, why does nobody care about this?) and when his usurpers sail near the island he raises a magical storm to shipwreck them, and uses his daughter Miranda (Rosanna Goodall) to create a new political alliance. It's in the visuals where the company's Indian theme is most clearly imposed on the play - the language it's performed in is a combination of English, Malayalam, French and Sanskrit, reflecting the cast's origins.

At least that's technically the case; in practice the script is almost entirely Shakespeare's English, the occasional speech performed in the actors' mother tongues. And this is, I think, the point where I couldn't get into this at all. The Indian parts work but the Tempest side of things leaves much to be desired.


Part of the fun of the Globe to Globe seasons has been seeing Shakespeare's works given a different spin by another country's theatrical traditions and requirements, appropriating the plays to create something completely new while still maintaining a kernel that's unmistakably Shakespeare at the heart of things. And Indian Tempest didn't feel like that to me. I have a feeling that, had it been performed entirely in one of the Indian languages, the over-the-top acting style complete with huge gestures, face-pulling, declamatory line-readings and masks would have seemed par for the course, but seeing and hearing it applied to the original verse took me right out of the experience. I think this may be one of those cases, though, where the problem lies with me rather than the production (I still can't decide if dressing Haris 'Haka' Resic's Ferdinand as Captain Jack Sparrow is hilarious or just baffling,) as the audience tonight went crazy for it.


There's some absolutely electric moments I loved, like the haunted banquet with its visual nods to Spirited Away, a wedding masque built around Indian dance that's one of the rare cases where that scene actually succeeds in being entertaining, and a final sequence where Paddy Hayter's Caliban refuses to abuse the power of ruling the island like his predecessor did. I didn't like that Pillai's Prospero was very much the outdated model of the kindly old sorcerer, even as he uses his magic to strike his daughter we're not invited to judge him; but this cuddly reading does make the judgement implied by this new postscript more pointed. Unfortunately outside of these outstanding moments I was simply bored by a production whose inventiveness doesn't stretch that much further than the visuals.

Indian Tempest by William Shakespeare is booking in repertory until the 3rd of August at Shakespeare's Globe.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including interval.

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