Teatro Circo, Murcia, Spain. 25 October 2013.
Cast and Creative Team
Actors Victor Duplá, Quique Fernández, Antonio Galeano, Xabier Murúa, Agustín Sasián, Eduardo Ruíz, Javier Tolosa
Director Sergio Peris-Mencheta
Translation Fundación Shakespeare
Assistant director Pepe Lorente
Art Director Antonio Vicente
Costume desig Raúl Amor
Video Joe Alonso
Steady Victor M. Ramírez
Steady Assistant Mikel Saukillo
Set Construction Quique Fernández
Lighting Design Manuel Fuster
Musical direction Dudu Ruiz and Antonio Galeano
Sound Design Dudu Rui and Joe Alonso
Physical training Diana Bernedo
Graphic design Antonio Vicente and Victor Monigote
Production managers Nuria-Cruz Moreno and Rebeca Ledesma
Review by Isabel Guerrero (University of Murcia)
A year after its creation in 2012, the Spanish company El Barco Pirata has presented its production Tempestad in the Teatro Circo in Murcia, a venue that seems especially suitable for this imaginative work because of its wide and open stage that invites audience’s participation. The director, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, is currently involved in two Shakespearean productions: he appears as an actor in Julius Caesar, directed by Paco Azorín, and has also ventured to direct The Tempest. Instead of preserving the original title, the production is simply called Tempestad, extending the storm that takes place at the beginning of the text to the whole play. The Tempest is recast as a play-within-a-play, creating a meta-theatrical frame where the spectators are asked to decide which parts belong to Shakespeare’s text and which do not. For that purpose, the play kicks off with a group of male actors who are about to begin their rehearsal of The Tempest. They complain, ramble and warm-up until they start the rehearsal reading their roles directly from the text. Little by little, the actors abandon their sheets and the play turns from rehearsal to the ‘real’ story, introducing the audience into Shakespeare’s universe.
The version stresses the fight for power of different characters: Prospero is the master of the island; Antonio and Sebastian try to kill the king to get power, etc. This stress on power enhances the colonialist vision of the play as Ariel and Caliban –the ‘locals’ on the island– appear completely subordinated to Prospero, the foreigner who has come to conquer them. Feelings are suppressed as far as Prospero’s relationship with his subordinates is concerned; Ariel and Caliban appear as mere instruments that serve Prospero’s purposes. The effect of this emphasis on power results on the loss of Ferdinand and Miranda’s love story which, together with Miranda’s astonishment by the presence of other human beings, is left aside.
Even though the production uses techniques typical of contemporary theatre (i.e. intermediality, physical theatre, etc), the fact that it is an all-male production echoes Renaissance times. Instead of reducing the cast, the seven actors give life to over twenty different characters doubling or even tripling the roles that each of them performs, another characteristic feature of early Modern English playing companies. In order to differentiate the characters, they transform their garments. However, they do not change their outfit completely, they simply retouch what they wear, turning, for instance, the King’s crown into Caliban’s handcuffs. Most of the transformations from one character to another are made on stage, giving the audience the opportunity of seeing how some simple changes help to create a completely different character. In contrast to the variety of characters that each actor performs, the role of Ariel is brought to life by three actors who perform it simultaneously. Even more risky is the performance of Caliban; the actor interprets a character who seems mentally handicapped, which may not suit the taste of all the members of the audience. It is also remarkable that the actor playing Prospero and his brother Antonio is the same that performs the director of the play within the play. The decision to use a director that is as well an actor recalls the role that Shakespeare himself may have had inside the King’s Men, that of author-director-actor.
At the beginning of the production, the actor performing the director states that this play cannot be staged in a theatre; it needs a real beach where the moonlight will substitute the artificial lightning. In an attempt to bring the seaside closer, the set imitates a beach, a small island where the action takes place. The set is composed of a circle of sand, a ladder that allows for different staging options (e.g. it serves as a vessel in the opening tempest and adds a third dimension, with characters climbing the ladder at some occasions), two buckets, and a screen at the back where different projections help to convey both the ambience and magic of the play. The production tries to catch the attention of the audience by stimulating their senses, as exotic scents invade the venue before the play starts. Water plays an important role too; one of the buckets is filled with water and is used to recreate the shipwreck of the King’s vessel with a small toy ship, and the actor-director throws water to the men in the vessel to increase the veracity of the shipwreck during the tempest. Apart from water and sand, the other two classical elements –air and fire– also appear on stage: the second bucket is used to make a bonfire to warm up Alonso and his men and, as could not been otherwise, air appears in connection to Ariel, as the three Ariel actors carry a balloon tied to their trousers. Despite its apparent simplicity, the set is characterised by chaos because the initial storm – performed thanks to the movement of the actors and a fan that helps to recreate the wind– leaves the stage covered by the paper sheets that the actors where reading at the beginning of the rehearsal.
Magic is conveyed through different means. For instance, Prospero’s superpowers are depicted using several cameras, their on-life recordings being projected on the screen. Thanks to the cameras Prospero is not only ubiquitous, but he is also able to exert his control over the visitors on the island, which helps to enhance the stress on power of the production. Regarding Ariel, he is performed by three actors simultaneously. Two are the effects of tripling Ariel: first, it heightens his magic features, as he can act simultaneously in different places; and it works as an instrument of power as well, as Prospero´s omnipresence is extended through the constant presence of this triple character. The three Ariel are dressed as school boys and the silver balloons tied to their trousers symbolise the bound to Prospero. When they are not performing, they sit at the back and play music that the other characters hear, portraying Ariel’s invisible presence in some scenes.
All this results in an ambitious production where the tempest in the sea is transformed into a tempest of theatrical techniques. However, the effort to use so many different theatrical resources is sometimes excessive and causes the loss of certain parts of the story, which makes the production difficult to follow for someone not familiar with Shakespeare’s text. Although most of the audience was fascinated with the mise-en-scene, the fact that several spectators left the venue half way through the show gives rise to a series of reflections on the expectations that a Spanish audience may have when attending a Shakespearean production. Did they decide to leave because the play did not meet their conception of ‘classical’ Shakespeare? Was there any other problem with the production? Both aspects may coincide. The play did not meet the conception that an occasional theatre-goer may have about how Shakespeare is staged. Moreover, although the production was well performed, the venue itself played against it at some points, because some parts of the action were slowed down as a result of the considerable width of the stage. In any case, this Tempestad is a good example of how to recreate The Tempest’s fantasy world on the stage out of 21st century theatrical resources.
 Sergio Peris-Mencheta has been awarded the Ceres Award to the best director for Tempestad [Tempest] and Un trozo invisible de este mundo [An invisible piece of this world], two of his latest productions.