By my so potent art
Martha Henry is spectacular in The Tempest, my favourite Shakespearean play, at Stratford this summer. Prospero was written as a male role, but a few words changed here and there and it suits an actress of Henry’s breadth just fine. It’s also a role that many thespians take on later in life, but at 80 Henry looks as if she has many great years left. As a side note, the first time she was on the Stratford stage was in 1962 – playing Miranda, Prospero’s daughter.
The Tempest is a busy play with multiple subplots, but among all of Shakespeare’s works, it is one of the more accessible. There are fewer words that are a struggle for a modern-day audience to translate. I don’t know why that is. This is the Bard’s last solo work, but I can’t imagine the language changed that much in Elizabethan England during the two decades he wrote plays.
In addition to the stellar performance from Martha Henry, others who stand out include Mamie Zwettler who plays Miranda and André Morin as Ariel. Staging is exemplary. As part of Prospero’s wizardry, lights magically appear on the stage floor, Juno at the wedding is magnificent, the gremlins truly scary and the giant bird above the stage is an amazing piece of animated theatrics. Did Shakespeare have all of this foo-for-ah in mind? Probably not, but in this interpretation everything works well.
The one sour note was the fact that the Festival Theatre was only two-thirds full. If that’s the turnout for a weekend matinee of a major show in late July, then attendance this year must be an overall problem. Where are the American tourists with their dollar worth one-third more? They’re missing a magnificent show.