Illyria’s THE TEMPEST presented by STET The English Theatre

We enjoyed a lively rendition of Shakespeare’s Tempest yesterday evening by Illyria Outdoor Theatre Company, Britain’s oldest open air theatre company. Hosted by STET, they return to the Netherlands for their 18th year. The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s later plays and one of the last that was written by him alone. Regarded as one of his more exotic romantic comedies, the play is set largely on a tropical island, possibly based on Bermuda. It includes all the usual ingredients of revenge, powerplay, magic and humour but also has darker elements. In recent times, the play has been interpreted as a comment on colonialism, specifically the exploitation and power imbalances associated with it.  

The character of Caliban, who is the son of the powerful witch, Sycorax, represents the original inhabitants of the magical island that is later colonized by Prospero and his daughter Miranda. Interpreted variously over the years, the character of Caliban has been represented in animal form in some versions or literally as a monster as he is frequently referred to as such in the play. He is initially welcomed by Prospero into his family, Caliban was taught to speak and brought up alongside the magician’s own daughter, Miranda. However, after attempting to sexually assault the young Miranda, Caliban is banished and kept as a slave, in chains, doomed to carry water and collect firewood for Prospero and Miranda.

In this version of the play, the character of Prospero and his brother, Antonio, are both female characters. Thus, it is Prospera, who is a powerful magician whose treacherous sister, Antonia, usurped her rule as Duchess of Milan. Prospera is portrayed as a powerful, learned woman for whom books and learning far outweigh the superficial trappings of power and material possessions. Nevertheless, she wants revenge on her sister and Alonso, King of Naples who aided her. For this reason, the play begins with a dramatic scene involving a large storm/ tempest in which the ship carrying Alonso and his heir, Ferdinand, Antonia and various other powerful noblemen is wrecked by forces controlled by powerful magic. They find themselves on Prospera’s enchanted island and all manner of intrigue and hilarity ensue.

Simple but effective props, combined with lightning speed costume changes and a healthy dose of  often ribald humour, allow a cast of only 5 to carry off this complex play with panache. No lighting effects or movable scenery were used, in keeping with how the play would have been performed in Shakespeare’s time. However simplicity of props and lighting were made up for by some thoroughly enjoyable physical theatre that included frying pans, metal rubbish bins and plenty of wonderfully timed sound effects. Particularly well done were comic scenes from Act 3 with Caliban, Stefano and Trinculo and the later speeches by Ceres and Iris in Act 4. Indeed standout performances by Stefano/ Iris and Ariel/Ceres were particularly enjoyable. Illyria prides itself on its authentically Elizabethan approach and indeed one felt the powerful magic of Shakespeares’s words come to life once more yesterday evening in the summer gardens of Wassenaar.    Souwie Buis    30th August 2019

Listen to ArtsTalk Radio’s interview with STET’s  Elske Van Holk

Dates and Venues

Thursday 29 Aug (19:30)* – Wassenaar, Raadhuis de Paauw

Friday 30 Aug (19:30*) – Wassenaar, Raadhuis de Paauw

Saturday 31 Aug (19:30) – Schovenhorst, Schovenhorst Estate

*Grounds open 2 hours before the performance for picnics.

Illyria also performs ALI BABA and the Forty Thieves  
Open-air family performance adapted by Oliver Gray

3st August & 1st September at Raadhuis de Paauw in Wassenaar

Adapted from One Thousand and One Nights (otherwise known as the Arabian Nights), this show is packed with cliff-hangers and laughs galore.Young Ali Baba stumbles across an enchanted cave when he overhears the magic words that open it: “Open Sesame!”. Inside the cave he finds untold amounts of gold and jewels, and takes some of it home…The perfect summer fun for thieves and vagabonds aged 5

Click here for more details