The Tempest, The Globe, 8 May 2012
The brightly painted backdrops showing a storm-tossed ship and the equally colourful suitcases arranged on the stage, together with coils of rope, created a fairy-tale atmosphere even before this Bangla production from Dhaka Theatre had begun.
It provided an evening of charming family entertainment, but also managed to make some serious points despite being severely condensed.
The cast and musicians each took a suitcase and placed it in front of them when they sat in a line at the back of the stage. The musicians were key to this production as virtually all the action took place to a subtle musical accompaniment of drums and percussion.
Prospero (Rubol Noor Lodi) blew on a conch to start the storm, as actors with small ship models on their sleeves danced around Ariel, unusually portrayed by a middle-aged woman (Shimul Yousuf) in a long blue veil. The dance became more frantic as the storm did its work.
Prospero walked with a stately, prancing gait as he reassured Miranda (Esha Yousuf) that no one had been harmed in the storm. She held her fingers elegantly as they circled gracefully around each other.
Ariel was pinched with cramps which Prospero delivered by stamping on the ground.
Caliban (Chandan Chowdhury) was hunched and clenched his fingers like claws. The unpleasant reference to Caliban’s attempted rape of Miranda was excised from the story so that Miranda was absent when Prospero spoke to him. Caliban was more of a naughty trickster with a cheeky smirk than a monster.
Ferdinand (Khairul Islam Pakhi) looked like a fairy-tale prince in his white uniform; even his sword had a fantasy touch. It was a soft stick with the figure of a bird as a hilt that looked more like a toy than a weapon. Prospero simply ducked out of the way when Ferdinand tried to strike at him.
The Duke (Shahiduzzaman Selim) and his party searched for Ferdinand. Ariel walked between them and put a young-looking Gonzalo (Rubayet Chowdhury Ahmed) and Alonso to sleep. Antonio’s (Shajjad Rajib) manic expression when suggesting to Sebastian (Rafiqul Islam) that he mimic him and allow his own brother to be killed got laughs from the audience, as did the plotters’ sheepish excuses when Alonso and Gonzalo awoke to see them with their swords drawn. Like Ferdinand, they also had soft sticks with playful designs as hilts.
An interesting female Trinculo (Samiun Jahan Dola) was played as a clown with a swaggering walk and exaggerated gestures. During a storm, she hid under Caliban and the drunk Stephano (Kamal Bayzid) touched the feet of the four-footed monster he thought he had found.
The reunion between Stephano and Trinculo was a very jolly one, with Stephano holding his companion in a neck grip from which Trinculo struggled comically to escape. Caliban was so taken with the drink that he sneaked up on Stephano to get at the bottle he was holding behind his back.
Some acrobatic drummers who jumped and span round led us into the interval. They reappeared against for the second half, which began with the very cute romance of Miranda and Ferdinand.
Ariel’s ventriloquism trick on Trinculo was played as slapstick. The banquet offered to the nobles was represented by large fake leaves with food painted onto them. Interestingly, Ariel did not appear as a harpy when confronting the nobles with their crimes.
Having tested the young suitor’s mettle, Prospero consented to the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda. The ceremony was immediately performed complete with floral garlands at the point where the masque occurs in the original.
The conspirators found two boxes containing fine clothes, and the female Trinculo was particularly taken with some gold cloth. They were chased them from cell by spirits.
Prospero renounced his magic, casting it aside with a sweeping gesture, after which the nobles were brought into his cell.
They immediately recognised Prospero and leant back in surprise. The brothers were reconciled; Alonso was delighted to discover that Ferdinand was still alive and married to Miranda. The servants were shamed and Ariel was set free. Everyone danced to create fair winds for the journey home.
So far this had been an interesting, colourful and folkloric adaptation of the play. But the ending saved it from being a saccharine concoction of pure twee.
Prospero offered the conch to Caliban. As soon as Caliban’s hand grasped it, the fingers on his other hand unclenched from their claw-like grip. The other hand followed suit. He stood upright and began to walk with the same dignified prancing step used by Prospero. He got to blow the conch as a symbolic assumption of power.
The final image in the production was Caliban garlanded and enthroned as ruler of island.
This was a striking way in which to end the play. Prospero did not address the audience to meditate on his story; the focus was clearly on the restoration of the island to its rightful owner.
The performance was rounded off with another dance, after which the cast went wild, shaking hands and high-fiving the audience as someone ran round the stage with a Bangladeshi flag.