(picture from RSC website - more here)
I haven’t seen a live production of ‘the Tempest’ before, and it’s a while since I read it, so although I had a broad memory of the plot I couldn’t recall all the details, which I think is a good thing, as it allows you to see the play ‘fresh’.
In this case, the mixed Black & White, British & African cast and the very African setting made for a wholly new and exciting play. The Island on which Prospero (Sir Anthony Sher) and his daughter are shipwrecked, and Ariel and the other Sprites/Spirits living there were clearly native/African, as was Caliban (John Koni) and Prospero, The King of Naples and the Duke of Milan were present as Colonial Europeans, which made for a very interesting reading of the play – Caliban came across less as a villain than as an oppressed, wrongly dispossessed individual, mistreated by Prospero.
The songs were sung in (I think) Xhosa as well as English, and the various magics involved huge puppets, a giant Chameleon, puppet version of the witch, Sycorax, and Ariel on stilts, so it was visually a very exciting show, as well as verbally.
I was slightly underwhelmed by Anthony Sher’s Prospero – nothing wrong with his performance, just not stunning, either.
Ariel (Atandwa Kani) was very impressive, the more so as much of his performance depended on mime -he managed to balance the light-hearted, mischievous side of the character and the yearning to be free very well.
In short - an interesting, original and highly enjoyable show. And I was only thrown a little off balance by the fact that I have seen 'Return to the Forbidden Planet' (which of course owes much of it's plot and dialogue to Tempest) much more recently than I have read the play, and so part of me kept expecting the cast to burst into a rendition of 'Good Vibrations'....