Une Tempête (1998): Gate Theatre, London
PrUne Tempête (1998)
PRINCIPAL CAST: Andrew Dennis (Caliban); Justin Grattan (Ferdinand); Michael Hadley (Prospero); Kelly Marcel (Miranda); Michael Wildman (Ariel);
This production ran from 21 September - 14 October 1998. It was performed in a new translation by Philip Crispin.
"When did you last see a black actor playing Caliban? It isn't, admittedly, as much a rarity as the sight of a white actor playing Othello, but the infrequency may be a sign that the colonialist implications of The Tempest have tended to be downplayed in favour of stressing other themes - power, and limitations of art. The casting of black actors, both as Caliban and Ariel, is crucial, though, to Une Tempete, a radical re-writing of Shakespeare's last play, proffered now from Caliban's perspective, by Aime Cesaire, the French-West Indian poet, politician, and coiner of the term 'negritude'....Some years back, Jonathan Miller made a striking feature of race in a stating of The Tempest, which presented Ariel and Caliban as examples of the different responses among tribes, in countries like Nigeria, to paternalist white authority. Ariel was the educated, westernised ironist, playing along, learning all the skills, and poised to seize control the moment the oppressor vacated the island. Picking up and repairing Prospero's broken staff at the end, he was clearly anticipating a future where his tribe would wield power over the island's Calibans, whom colonialism had demoralised. In Une Tempete, the differences between the two characters are ideological and highly conscious, as well as a matter of temperament. Broadly speaking, Cesaire's play duplicates the action of the original, but he invents a central theme where Ariel and Caliban argue over what is the best strategy for achieving freedom. Facing down charges of Uncle Tomism, Michael Wildman's slender, sensitive Ariel insists that it is only by creating a conscience in Prospero, thus paradoxically including the slave driver in the liberation, that they will achieve their ends. Andrew Dennis's imposing, sardonic Caliban jeers that it would be about as sensible to wait for a rock to burst out of a flower. 'I want freedom now,' he proclaims. If that has a familiar ring as the slogan of the Black Power movement, then the sequence in which Caliban contemptuously informs Prospero that he wishes to be called 'X', 'like a man without a name - or, more precisely, like a man who has had his name stolen', specifically identifies the character with Malcolm X...Mick Gordon's production plays some delightfully witty tricks with scale (there's a miniature beachscape with a lightbulb sun and a tray of sand which Ferdinand is obliged to smooth with a spoon-sized hoe). It also expertly sustains the brisk, jokey tone which Une Tempete adopts when guying large areas of the original." ~ Paul Taylor, "Power play on a lonely isle", Independent, 25 September 1998
"Aime Cesaire's reworking of Shakespeare's The Tempest provides the most exciting start to a Gate season since the heady days of Stephen Daldrey. After several years of big ideas and flat productions, you can almost see the clouds of dust being swept out of the door by the 28-year-old new broom, Mick Gordon....Like a party whip dealing with a reluctant backbencher, Michael Hadley's smooth sorcerer forces Michael Wildman's hapless Ariel to swallow his morals, hitch Prospero's daughter Miranda to the King's son, and bring the rest of the royal party to their knees with hunger. Cue some wonderful show-stealing absurdities. Mike Hayley's drunken steward Stephano pitches up singing in a fruity bass, 'Ooh the lads,' in the manner of Donald Sinden, and Daniel York's jester Trinculo pops out of the cabinet with a microphone in his hand like Ben Elton....Only Andrew Dennis's bulky black Caliban refuses to be ruled. 'You and your Uncle Tom patience,' snarls Caliban trying to stir the servile Ariel into revolt. Smouldering like Malcolm X, he chips away at Prospero's condescension, gradually revealing his elaborate illusions to be built on lies. Dressed in tattered silks, Prospero exudes the charm of a patient headmaster who smiles while managing his unruly pupils' vitals. They are superbly matched. If Caliban has the most truthful lines, it is Hadley's magician who has the most gripping conviction." ~ James Christopher, "Gate's swinging satire", The Times, 29 September 1998