The Tempest, the latest production by McGill’s Players’ Theatre, is the third installment in a season where the mission is “to juxtapose reality with what is magical and imaginative.” This play, believed to be the last written work of William Shakespeare, certainly does just that. Director Juliet Paperny blurs the lines between audience and actors, frequently breaking the fourth wall in order to expose the fragility of the world the characters inhabit. The set is not ornate, but presents the island locale as isolated and unidentifiable.
The comedy concerns itself with an exiled Italian noble Prospero (Ashkaan Mohtashami) who was left shipwrecked on a distant island with his young daughter Miranda (Katie Scharf). The architect of his banishment was none other than his own brother Antonio (Malachy Clearly), seeking to usurp Prospero’s position. Fortunately for him, Prospero possesses potent magic, which he uses to dominate the spirits that inhabit the island. He presides over each event, smirking from above as he nonchalantly engineers everything. It is with this power that he raises the titular storm and brings his foes to his doorstep.
At this point, with the passengers of a ship embroiled in vicious winds, the narrative begins. This scene is perhaps too tumultuous, as some of the dialogue becomes briefly incomprehensible. Wild spirits, including the impressively chaotic Ariel (Kay Min)—who delivers one of the most convincing performances of the night—blow the ship to shore and separate its inhabitants. Min is as mercurial as the wind she commands, and her energy never ceases in its relentlessness. As Prospero’s plans begin to unfold, the inhabitants of the island meet the outsiders, setting off a series of comedic, romantic, and malignant interactions.
The most nuanced of these is between the only true native of the island, Caliban (Yves Abanda); jester Trinculo (Nick LePage); and an inebriated butler Stephano (Anurag Chaoundhury). Caliban is the disfigured servant of Prospero, treated cruelly by his master for trying to rape Miranda. Abanda’s performance is unerring as he traverses the character’s disparate moods and fits of grovelling insanity. He is one of the characters to engage with the audience, perhaps suggesting a tenuous hold on his own reality. He finds a new master when Stephano introduces him to alcohol and, in a series of misadventures and misidentifications as amusing at times as they are distressing, begins to plot the death of Prospero with the help of his bumbling new companions.
In yet another example of the thin barrier between reality and imagination, the spirits of the island also display their
awareness of the people watching the events on the island unfold. They remain wild and ethereal throughout The Tempest, appearing in varied forms as disparate as dogs and gods.
All of these characters and more venture around the isle—the approximately two and a half hours of the play occur in real time—and are eventually brought together in a reunion that will determine their collective fates.
Overall, this production is a fine display of student talent. There are several incredible performances that provide a visceral representation of a widely read story. Although the thought of Shakespeare is daunting to many, The Tempest captures your attention without letting it go, and makes the performance feel like a brief trip to an unknown island.
The Tempest runs from Nov. 20-23 at Player’s Theatre. All shows begin at 8 p.m. Student admission is $6.