Driftwood Theatre brings Shakespeare’s The Tempest to parks around Ontario with this summer’s Bard’s Bus Tour. A public park is certainly a unique atmosphere in which to stage a Shakespearean play, but Driftwood’s set up proves ideal in bringing this tale of vengeance and romance to life in an unfamiliar setting.
Gathered around a modest stage on all sides in a grass clearing in Withrow Park, the audience of fifty or sixty, seated on lawn chairs or beach towels, becomes fully immersed in a wonderfully original rendition of one of Shakespeare’s final plays. With no curtains, backstage, or wings, the actors stay in character while milling about “offstage” behind the onlooking audience. While much of the audience’s attention remains fixed on the story unfolding onstage, the crowds cannot help but steal glimpses at these other actors, carrying about their roles some twenty feet away from the set. This aspect gives the show fluidity. The characters are constantly around, and the scene changes become much more interconnected when the audience can see every character at all times, regardless of when they are in front of them onstage or not.
A superb cast, led by Richard Alan Campbell’s intense and fearsome Prospero, keeps the audience focused on the play and not the goings-on of the park itself. Car horns, sirens, birds, children playing, and distant cell phones ringing all potentially pose an issue for both performer and viewer, but the confidence and concentration displayed by the entire ensemble keeps the audience attentive, despite these possible distractions. Kaleb Alexander, as Ferdinand, quickly entrenches himself as a crowd favourite. His comedic timing and excellent command of the stage allows him to shine every time he finds himself onstage. Perhaps the most interesting of parts is the dual-casting of Peter van Gestel as both Stephano, the pilot, and the monstrous Caliban. Caliban begins his life onstage as a human-sized puppet, controlled by two actors at once, but upon meeting Stephano, he is reduced to a hand puppet on van Gestel’s hand, and even further scaled down to a tiny finger puppet by the end. Van Gestel’s back and forth conversations between his own two characters produces some of the more humorous moments of the night.
Overall, the Bard’s Bus Tour is a truly distinct experience, even when compared to other outdoor plays. Fans of Shakespeare are sure to enjoy The Tempest in such a refreshing light, and those just looking for something to do on a summer night should have little to complain about here.
The Bard’s Bus Tour visits various parks across Ontario until August 17th. Viewing is free with a suggested donation of $20. For more information visit www.driftwoodtheatre.com/bards-bus-tour/