The Tempest (1976): Oxford Playhouse Company
PrThe Tempest (1976)
PRINCIPAL CAST: Darien Angadi (Ariel); Thomas Baptiste (Caliban); Gayle Hunnicutt (Miranda); Martyn Jacobs (Ferdinand); Ralph Michael (Prospero).
This production also toured to the Cambridge Arts Theatre (the cast list above is from that programme) and ran from 28 September - 2 October 1976. The programme for the Oxford Playhouse run simply has the date October 1976.
The programme states that "The Director would like to thank the Kabuki-Za Theatre of Tokyo and The National Theatre of Japan as well as Stomu Yamashta's Red Buddha Theatre for help in preparing this production. Mitsuru Ishii travelled to England under a grant from The Tokyo Club.
"If The Tempest was written as a formal burial piece of arts magic and other lingeringly passionate skeletons, in the family cupboard, then both are in for a fairly self-conscious and decadent celebration. In Gordon McDougall's Oriental production, with settings by Mitsuri Ishi, and emblazoned with acknowledgements to Kabuki and Buddhist theatres. Prospero (Ralph Michael) and Miranda (Gayle Hunnicutt) live in a pre-Raphaelite dream, she with flowing tresses, he with a constant look which speaks of far-away yearnings, like a 30s nostalgia number. Ariel (Darien Angadi) is cast in equally exotic a mould. With skull razored immaculately and quiveringly slim torso elegantly entrenched on the proceedings, he will freeze position at the drop of a Milanese courtier's hat, or mention of his dam, Sychorax, sing softly backed by island electronics, or merely, when doing nothing else, glide. Equally arresting to look at is Thomas Baptiste's Caliban, a quite loathsome monster with green scales on the back of his head and other protuberances on less mentionable places. Most arresting of all is the vision of the banquet table to tantalise the Men of Sin, which is attended by green shapes dancing in contorted glee. Iris, Ceres and Juno wear eye-opening Oriental costumes. But if the eye is often dazzled, the ear and sense are as often dimmed. Most of the cast play in a gentle soporific manner, earnest and concerned to talk to one another, but with little urgency to communicate to an audience. It may be that the intrusion of skilful cacophonies from sitar and percussion remove the punch from what they are saying. It may be that Zen and the Bard do not mix, or if they do, Mr. McDougall has not hit upon the right measures." ~ Garry O'Connor, Financial Times, 7 October 1976
"Gordon McDougall has looked to the East for inspiration in his Oxford Playhouse production of The Tempest. Mitsuru Ishii's designs have the fragile beauty of a Japanese print: Red Buddah-like percussive music punctuates the speech; and black garbed stage assistants (Kuroko) whisked on and off the magic properties. But although the production is clearly Orient rather than Occident-prone, the visual stylishness can in no way compensate for the often slap-dash speaking of the verse. This Tempest is strong on magic and short on meaning. This Tempest is strong on magic and short on meaning. At the centre of the revels is Ralph Michael's gold cloaked Prospero; and, after wrestling with that intractible exposition, Mr Michael does thankfully give us a Prospero filled with Old Testament anger and fury...But much of the other casting left me puzzled: Thomas Baptiste's black Caliban, covered in green scales like Rod Steiger in The Illustrated Man, was wholly devoid of menace; Darien Angadi's lithe, shaven Ariel resembled a Hare Krishna disciple of the type one bumps into in Oxford Street; and Gayle Hunnicutt's Miranda, while physically ravishing and intelligently spoken, was hardly the epitome of un-worldly innocence. Like other directors before him, Mr McDougall has been seduced by that fatal word 'Masque' and has overly concentrated on the play's visual effects. But it's no use having exploding streamers, gold-decked spirits and painted devils unless one also grapples with the play's essential themes: The conflict between Nature and Nurture, the morality of colonisation, the consequences of usurpation. The best productions of The Tempest I have seen (by Brook and Miller) have started with the text and let the effects grow out of that. Here, however, you feel Mr. McDougall has started with a series of Kabuli images and slotted the actors and the language in afterwards; and that accounts for the feeling that one is getting an illustrated edition of the play rather than an exploration of its meaning." ~ Michael Billington, The Guardian, 11 October 1976
"Wind chimes and gongs, koto music and flute combine with harsh percussion and electronic amplification to weave a fabric of sound through the whole of Shakespeare's most musical play. Borrowing freely from the traditions of the Japanese Kabuki and Bunraku theatres, Mr. McDougall integrates Oriental sounds and stagecraft into the text of The Tempest. Mitsuru Ishii has designed a set of simple shapes in muted colours, with rocks and combed sand, that gives the illusion of a Japanese ink-painting. Magic holds a special place in the production, with enchantments, apparitions and spectacle more cenrally visualized than is usually possible. Three black-clad stage hands perform Prospero's sorcery at Ariel's bidding, discreetly hiding their faces in the Japanese manner. With grace they move from their role of Kuroko into the roles and costumes of more traditional Elizabethan spirits, but then drop their coloured costumes and resume their function as stage hands....Darien Angadi's Ariel is a truly enchanted character with a shaven head, bird-like features and vivid, delicate gestures, but little voice." ~ Ned Chaillet, "Borrowing from the Japanese", The Times, 6 October 1976
"The Oxford Playhouse production of The Tempest is a semi-Japanese affiar situated roughly halfway from Shakespeare to Madame Butterfly and none the worse for that. The director Gordon McDougall has accurately perceived that of all Shakespeare's plays this is perhaps the best suited (ethereal spirits and all) to the kabuki environment. So we have stagehands in veils, massive and often word-drowning percussion, butterflies on poles and a wonderfully sinister Ariel from Darien Angadi. Seeing the Playhouse production in a week when Oxford were also taking on Japan at international rugby, I can only conclude that the theatrical result at least has been a draw; on the credit side, apart from gentlemen in headscarves and a backdrop resembling Mount Fujiyama, there's a Stomu Yamash'ta score and an isle full of Japanese noises. There's also, though, the feeling that the director has looked carefully at Japanese theatre, taken from it what he needed and abandoned the rest. Thus Prospero is played in distinctly English fashion by Ralph Michael, a distinguished actor who has mysteriously conceived the role as a minor-public-school headmaster, while his daughter Miranda is played in conspicuously hearty form by Gayle Hunnicut, looking lovely if a bit un-oriental. In a still different convention there's a marvellously queer North Country Trinculo from Neil McCaul and a black Caliban (Thomas Baptiste). So where precisely are we? In a very inventive production, certainly, and one which looks like a Cook's tour of the Orient on which several of the guides have declined to go native." ~ unattributed clip in the V&A Theatre and Performance archive, Punch, 13 October 1976