James Stewart Reaney

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The mother of all Tempests reigns in glory at the 2018 Stratford Festival.

With Martha Henry magnificent as Prospero, Shakespeare’s The Tempest had its opening “afternoon” on Sunday June 10 at the Festival Theatre. (The fest’s opening night performance on May 28 had been cancelled because of a bomb threat.)

Martha Henry offers her usual tremendous command of voice, expression and movement. But seeing Prospero as a woman and mother brought a profound understanding to Prospero’s protection of daughter Miranda, also marooned on The Tempest’s enchanted isle.

Martha Henry as Prospero and Michael Blake as Caliban in The Tempest. Photography by David Hou.
Martha Henry as Prospero and Michael Blake as Caliban in The Tempest. Photography by David Hou.

This Prospero has great power — but also a capacity for mercy — as in her forgiveness of Caliban (Michael Blake making the leap from the character’s monstrous and snarling beginning to Shape Of Water grace at the end).

Handled with care

Like all Antoni Cimolino-helmed production, every line of 2018’s Tempest sounds as if its dramatic weight has been considered and the actor understands its place in the conception. That is true whether it’s serious — Rod Beattie as the good old courtier Gonzalo; or otherworldly — Andre Morin as a Puck-with-a-soul Ariel; or sweetly funny — Mamie Zwettler’s Miranda and Sebastian Heins’s Ferdinand as Juliet and Romeo with a happy ending.

Bretta Gerecke, superstar: if you saw Chariots Of Fire at the Grand (hope you did), you will know how acclaimed designer Bretta Gerecke can transform a space. The Festival Theatre thrust stage is all wood & roots & decks — but prepare to be marvelled, too, by the celestial lights in magic shapes & the Harpy that shrieks out of nowhere.

Gerecke also collaborates with fest costumiers on a spectacular costume. Check out an earlier post for the story behind the cloak Martha Henry wears when wonders need to be conjured. (The program adds details about the staff. We got wood — and Martha Henry carried the magical prop to a nearby hotel lobby as cast and fans were evacuated on May 28.)

London (& St. Thomas) calling:

London-raised Tom McCamus (Stephano) and St. Thomas ace Stephen Ouimette (Trinculo) provide the laughs as inept conspirators — along with Caliban — in comic counterpoint to the more sinister cabal of courtiers we meet during the shipwreck as The Tempest gets going. Amabile and Original Kids alum Alexis Gordon is fetchingly mystical as Ceres in a masque under the direction of Prospero’s magic staff.

From left: Stephen Ouimette as Trinculo, Tom McCamus as Stephano and Michael Blake as Caliban in The Tempest. Photography by David Hou.
From left: Stephen Ouimette as Trinculo, Tom McCamus as Stephano and Michael Blake as Caliban in The Tempest. Photography by David Hou.

London on the soundtrack: Western Don Wright grad and Wall Of Famer Berthold Carriere, composer and keyboardist, prepared his score which is music of the spheres magnificence.

It is Carriere’s 41st Stratfest season.

Weather report (Tempest background):

In Shakespeare’s tale of loss and reconciliation, Prospero, former Duchess of Milan, uses magical arts to bring within her power the enemies who robbed her of her throne and stranded her on a remote island. With the help of the spirit Ariel, she orchestrates a confrontation with her adversaries – and a new destiny for her daughter, Miranda. In 1962, Miranda was Martha Henry’s first role at Stratford. The late William Hutt was Prospero then — Hutt later played Prospero in his farewell performance at the fest. The Tempest continues till Oct. 26 at the Festival Theatre.

No Con-Fuse-ion (Quick hits): LondonFuse has seen five of Statfest’s 2018 offerings.

To recap — The Tempest: Do not miss Martha Henry as Prospero. Just don’t …

The Rocky Horror Show: Fishnets on many & everyone can sing — tremendous fun …

The Music Man: bring the whole family. Applaud those kids …

An Ideal Husband: very funny. After the intermission …

The Comedy Of Errors: May need a second visit to appreciate the conception.

Fest for all: The Stratford Festival’s 2018 season runs until Nov. 4, featuring The Tempest, The Comedy of Errors, Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, The Music Man, The Rocky Horror Show, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, An Ideal Husband, To Kill a Mockingbird, Napoli Milionaria!, Brontë: The World Without and Paradise Lost. For tickets, visit stratfordfestival.ca.

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