Review of NCM Fathom’s The Tempest.

Plummer as Prospero

This week at The River, nine of us were mesmerized by the US premier of  The Tempest , starring Christopher Plummer, who, at 82 shows us a thing or two about aging gracefully.  

Don’t stick your nose in the air and say “I don’t like Shakespeare.”  Most of us have not had the pleasure of seeing his magical words presented by actors who know how to deliver the lines as they were intended…as the every-day language of Elizabethan England.  This cast did right by the play.  The meaning of each line is understood – every lovely nuance, is as he intended – in what was Shakespeare’s last, and now considered one of his greatest, works. 

The film brings together a perfect marriage of theater and cinema, filmed before live audiences over two days at Canada’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival.  It strikes the perfect chord of electrifying clarity in glorious surround sound.  The surprising addition of delicate etherial music in the appropriate scenes was exactly the right enhancement. 

Dion Johnstone as Caliban

Having just seen the Metropolitan Opera’s delightful mishmash of The Tempest, entitled The Enchanted Island, I was up on Prospero’s story, which Plummer executes like a calm and skillful surgeon.  I was also just fresh from wading through two novels (Interred With Their  Bones and Haunt Me Still) by author Jenniffer Lee Carrell, PhD.,  who is a Shakespearian authority.  Because of Dr. Carrell’s scholarly approach, she cleverly engages us in her incorporation of The Bard’s work, so I was already in Shakespearian mode.   

Sprite with Prospero

Shakespeare left few if any directions for anyone,  director or actor, brave enough to tackle the text, so we are most often left to our own devices (or not).  Tony award-winning director Des McAnuff is that brave man.  He would be the first of ten reasons on ten levels to convince you to see this production, which is nothing short of brilliant, brilliant brilliant. 

McAnuff dares to enriches the play without sending us into sugar overload.  Take for instance the traditional masks of most Shakespearian productions, which here are kicked up more than a notch by costume designer Paul Tazewell, who may lean a bit on Cirque du Soleil, but it feels right and works beautifully.  Dion Johnstone’s Caliban channeled a Star Wars’ Syth, creepy with the right sympathetic touch.  Kudos to the costuming of Caliban, Ariel and all the otherworldly creatures.   But the standout role for me is Ariel, the Sprite  played with impish charm by Julyana Soelistyo.   She is simply luminous. 

Now that I’m old enough to pay attention to Shakespeare’s subtleties, I can tell you with certainty, this vision of  The Tempest  is not to be missed.  Des McAnuff  and company have raised the bar on how technology will bring classical theater to us in the future.  Lucky us and lucky you – it can be seen throughout July in various theaters. 

Click the link to find where it’s showing near you.