BHARAT RANG MAHOTSAV Direction, performance, music and stage design come together with telling effect in this rendering of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”

The most striking aspect of the production of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” that was staged by Footsbarn International Theatre Company, France, at Kamani as part of the 15th Bharat Rang Mahotsav in the Capital last week is the way the enchanted desert island is visualised. This is the island where all the dramatis personae act out their roles to reflect the serious, bitter and lyrical content of the masterpiece. In a play described as the “Indian Tempest”, the performers deliver their lines in three languages — English, French and Malayalam — to reinforce the creative power of intercultural expressive means to give universal dimension to the works of art. The cast is also drawn from Kerala and France. Another highlight of this production is the use of a wide range of musical instruments, both Indian and Western, not only to reinforce the action but to produce deep emotional impact.

Artistic director Paddy Mayter not only brings alive the theme of “lost illusions, of bitter wisdom and fragile — though stubborn — hope” but he also gives the most contemporary interpretation to the play, not by adding and deleting any thematic element but through stage visuals. The play moves towards the denouement, Prospero prepares to leave the stage. He bids farewell to Caliban, a savage and deformed slave. He has already granted liberty to Ariel, an airy spirit who has fulfilled all his missions. Alone on the stage, Caliban takes hold of the magic book of Prospero he has left behind and moves up on a raised platform, examines the book, tears apart its pages and consigns them to flames. This image indicates that Prospero has occupied this island as a colonialist. Now its rightful inhabitant, Caliban, has retaken it. It is the end of the era of colonialism. Now Caliban is a free man on top of the world — this is not the Indian Tempest alone but universal, and Shakespeare is our contemporary indeed.

The director has reinforced this interpretation through several visuals. Caliban has never reconciled with his slavery and has never forgotten that he is a rightful inhabitant of this island. In a crude and grotesque manner, he along with Stephano the drunkard and Trinulo the clown make an abortive attempt at Prospero’s life to liberate the occupied island.

The set designed by Fredricka Hayter gives the illusion of a desert, integrating with other elements to form an artistic whole. The use of a screen provides the the viewer the opportunity to watch what is happening in Prospero’s cell. The wedding scene between Miranda, the daughter of Prospero, and Ferdinand, son to the King of Naples, is aesthetically delightful. Thanks to the choreography by Zbigniew Szumski, who has also designed lighting, the wedding celebration scene acquires a haunting beauty. The weird creatures in masks, the menacing sounds and the stylised lighting evoke an enchanted world that is ruled by Prospero with the services rendered by his slave Arial, who remains invisible to other creatures. One raised platform is used to enact some of the vital dramatic sequences.

One of the metaphoric features of the stage design is that a huge circle is drawn on the centre stage, on which most of the action takes place, making viewing very effective. The circle is suggestive of the clock. Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan who was dethroned by his own brother, Antonio, has now regained his dukedom. Alonso, King of Naples, has found his son Ferdinand who was lost in the storm, and Ferdinand has married beautiful Miranda. The storm is over.

The entire action is set afoot with the application of Prospero’s magical power. Now that he has achieved his worldly ambition, the moral order has been established, and Prospero renounces his magic powers, saying, “I’ll break my staff. Bury it certain fathoms in the earth.”

Reghoothaman Damodaran Pillai as Prospero gives a powerful performance. With his long silvery hair, huge and flowing costumes, his gait and style of delivery, he makes his presence magnificent, bringing to the fore the ebb and flow of the wounded heart of a dethroned ruler with immense magical power.

Acquiring wisdom through the vicissitudes of life, he says in a clear and solemn voice, “…we are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with sleep.” His Prospero comes down from the stage, moves towards the exit, symbolizing his quest for the spiritual bliss far away from the materialistic world. Kani Kusruti as Miranda is full of feminine charm, a living image of the innocence of a virgin.

Her scene with Ferdinand radiates with romantic beauty. Gopalkrishnan as Ariel and a dancer who performs at the wedding of Miranda is one of the superbly cast performers.

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