Monday, October 09, 2006

REVIEW: La Tempete/The Tempest (O'Reilly Theatre, Dublin)

Shakespeare's The Tempest has a particular place in theatre, offering what amounts to an invitation to treat for experimental theatre. In the story of a strange island presided over by the vengeful sorcerer, Prospero (Richard Theriault) sometimes what is required is closer to Harry Potter than Hamlet. Sure, there are some nice speeches, but what really counts here is how a production conjures up on stage The Tempest's corps of magic, monsters and storms.

Sometimes the job is pulled off with what might be called "rough magic", that type of theatre that chooses to create images almost with whatever is lying around. Regular Irish visitor's Footsbarn Theatre company toured a version of Tempest which did exactly that, with stormy seas, for example, created – effectively – from the admirably low tech of huge billowing sheets, flapped by cast members.

Canada's 4D Art theatre company French language version of the play takes the 'other' approach, using advanced digital technology to create the magic of Prospero's island. At the heart of their production lies a type of video projection which creates a successful impression of three dimensional forms on the stage, sometime glowing amorphous swirls, sometime life-sized figures, sometimes giant heads that seem to occupy the same space as the live action players.

The approach offers the three-handed directorial crew (Michel Lemieux, Victor Pilon and Denise Guilbault, two out of three of whom have been associated with Cirque du Soleil) a magnificent pallet of cinematic effects and techniques (such as the close-up) ready to deploy when the moment calls for a ghost, or a sudden maelstrom.

But while this is incredibly suggestive of future directions for the theatre, it is clear from La Tempete, smartly-handled as it is, that a completely engaging show still relies on a flash of magic that remains hard to pin down, or digitise. On a good night, the flapping sheet can still be mightier than the hologram.

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