Moscow's Chekhov International Festival returns with a forceful new production of The Tempest. Cheek by Jowl's Russian sister company brings to life this disturbing masque of power, control and illusion. Shakespeare juggles magic, laughter, danger and love with all the flair and freedom of his maturity. Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod's internationally renowned Russian ensemble, whose 'acting is nothing short of sublime' (The Times), were previously seen in Twelfth Night, Three Sisters and Boris Godunov.
This production is suitable for 16+
A Chekhov International Festival production in association with Cheek by Jowl, with support from Théâtre Les Gemeaux Scène Nationale, Sceaux.
|Igor Yasulovich||Prospero, the usurped Duke of Milan|
|Anna Khalilulina||Miranda, Prospero's daughter|
|Andrey Kuzichev||Ariel, a spirit|
|Alexander Feklistov||Caliban, enslaved by Prospero|
|Mikhail Zhigalov||Alonso, the King of Naples|
|Pavel Kuzmin||Sebastian, Alonso's brother|
|Evgeny Samarin||Antonio, Prospero's brother, the usurping Duke of Milan|
|Ian Ilves||Ferdinand, Alonso's son, Prince of Naples|
|Alexander Lenkov||Gonzalo, a Counselor|
|Maxim Onishchenko||Master of the ship|
|Set and Costumes Designer||Nick Ormerod|
|Lighting Designer||Kristina Hjelm|
|Music Arrangement||Roman Nasib|
|Assistant Director||Kirill Sbitnev|
|Assistant Choreographer||Irina Kashuba|
|Declan Donnellan's Interpreter, Literary Consultant||Anna Kolesnikova|
|Costume Designer's Assistant||Natalia Vedeneeva|
|Saxophone playing coach||Dmitry Sarasek|
|Stage Manager||Olga Vasilevskaya|
|Company Manager||Olga Sharapova|
|Technical Director||Vladimir Kizeev|
|Stage Hand||Georgy Siprashvili|
|Tour Manager||Anna Krasnova|
|General Producer||Valery Shadrin|
Caliban and comrades go down a storm.
Prospero enters alone in the half light. He whistles quietly. The three grey doors in his cell begin to creak, and the distant swell of the sea comes closer. The flood becomes overwhelming. The doors fly open to reveal the wrecked mariners fighting for their lives.
It's the simplest, and most terrifying opening to the play imaginable, and announces the intentions of the Cheek by Jowl director/designer duo, Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, and the company of Russian actors with whom they've worked these past 11 years under the aegis of the Chekhov International Theatre Festival in Moscow.
This is a rough, harsh Tempest, with old scores settled, a daughter married and dispatched, an island left to fend for itself, and a savage yanking of the ritual apparitions and feastings into Soviet socialist satire: the masque of Iris and Ceres is reworked as dance of peasant women with garish faces, then a chorus of workers brandishing sickles in unison.
This follows the cleansing of a naked Ferdinand, and the putting on of his new civilian suit. The lights come up throughout the theatre. Our revels now are ended: it's on with the motley, then on with the business of running and ruining the world as usual. The subversive faction of Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano are seen plucking their new shiny suits and mobile phones in a shopping mall.
There is no hint of valedictory about this Prospero: the arch manipulator is bringing everyone to heel, making his point, and moving on. Igor Yasulovich is angry, determined and vindictive throughout. Even his own daughter, Miranda, is dragged howling and screaming away from Caliban, her sexual tormentor, into a not so brave new world.
Miranda was innocent of his slavering because she knew nothing else. Caliban, as played by Alexander Feklistov, is a primitive old family retainer, and his world is as violently confounded as is Miranda's. Anya Khalilulina has the air and beauty of a prelapsarian virgin. Until the storm.
The new arrivals, the usurping party led by Prospero's brother, the Duke of Milan (Evgeny Samarin), and the unusually vivid Gonzalo of the shock-haired Alexander Lenkov, have to readdress their status, and their politics, in a strange, ethereal limbo.
This atmosphere of unreality is enforced by Prospero's spirit, Ariel (Andrey Kuzichev), a black-suited malevolent gofer who douses the characters in water poured from buckets and gardening cans. He's also replicated in four identical musicians on accordion and wind instruments, and his shape-shifting abilities are most strikingly represented as a log, humped by Ferdinand from one side of the stage to another.
Every character is played with heart, from the inside out, as you'd expect from Russian actors. Ilya Iliin as Trinculo, for instance, exudes comic uncertainty in his heart-breaking portrayal, while rubicund Sergey Koleshnya simply is Stephano, the cook and bottle-washer who's been knocking back the grog for days.
This is a fine, fresh, bold look at a play that can sometimes seem over-familiar and sentimental. Michael Coveney, The Independent. 12 April 2011
This is a Tempest blessed with wild invention, blazing performances and a final sense of unsettlingly qualified forgiveness.
This is a Tempest blessed with wild invention, blazing performances and a final sense of unsettlingly qualified forgiveness.
This is also a specifically Russian Tempest. The marriage masque features cheerful peasants dancing with scythes and an old propaganda film celebrating the wonders of Soviet agriculture. When the 'men of sin' are confronted with their crimes, the spirits seem like judges at a show trial, and when Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban raid Prospero's cell, they discover a lavish department store complete with designer clothes, mobile phones and credit cards - the new emblems of post-Soviet Russia.
The play is often laugh-out-loud funny, but Donnellan and his actors also penetrate The Tempest's heart with the help of fascinating, fresh-minted performances.
Igor Yasulovich's gaunt, fierce Prospero is a violent tyrant who has cruelly enslaved Alexander Feklistov's man-mountain of a Caliban, the latter somehow suggesting all the brutalised suffering of the Russian proletariat over the years. Meanwhile, Anya Khalilulina brings an electrifying feral quality to Miranda, sometimes flinching in fear from the father whom she also evidently loves, and following her beloved Ferdinand on all fours. The wicked Sebastian and Antonio are presented as flick-knife wielding Russian Mafiosi, while Andrey Kuzichev is a charismatic, acrobatic Ariel who movingly teaches the embittered Prospero the nature of pity.
Blessed with wild invention, blazing performances and a final sense of unsettlingly qualified forgiveness, this is a Tempest that draws its inspiration from Russia's turbulent history over the past century to produce something rich, strange and unexpectedly entertaining. Charles Spencer, The Telegraph. 11 April 2011
There is something liberating about Shakespeare in a foreign language. And Declan Donnellan, working for the fourth time with Cheek by Jowl's Russian ensemble, has come up with a remarkable, wittily inventive, two-hour version of a play that, for all its verbal beauty, can seem stubbornly undramatic.
Narrative clarity is the keynote from the start. Prospero, an old man in belt and braces, sits downstage in front of a curved wall inset with three doors. As if by fierce concentration, he conjures a storm whose turmoil is only glimpsed through the partially opened doors. When he recounts to Miranda the reasons for their exile, the usurping Antonio and his Neapolitan accomplice emerge to re-enact their treachery. Not only does this enliven Shakespeare's sluggish exposition, it also suggests the magical power and long-nurtured political rage of this seemingly frail Prospero.
Donnellan never lets us forget this is a play drenched in marine imagery. Waves periodically foam and tumble, through projections, on the back wall of Nick Ormerod's set. Water is everywhere: Caliban hauls it in pails for Miranda's ablutions, buckets are poured over Trinculo, and the naked figure of the mud-caked Ferdinand undergoes a ritual cleansing at the hands of Prospero. This, in itself, highlights another aspect of Donnellan's production: Prospero's struggle between embittered revenge and patriarchal concern for those in his power. We are used to seeing The Tempest played as a colonial metaphor, but Donnellan gives this a twist by emphasising the bonds created by territorial occupation: there's a deeply moving moment when Anya Khalilulina's Miranda, due to leave for Naples, rushes back to tearfully embrace Alexander Feklistov's inconsolable Caliban.
Admittedly, the relationship between Prospero and Ariel is diluted by having many of the latter's functions executed by a chorus of besuited Russians. But this is turned to advantage when Ariel's arraignment of the play's villains is turned into a Soviet show trial. The often faintly embarrassing rustic masque also becomes a Slavic peasant ritual plausibly filled with "sunburned sicklemen, of August weary". And, even though this is an ensemble show, Igor Yasulovich is unforgettable as a Prospero torn between his quasi-divine power and residual humanity. I was also much amused by Ilya Iliin's fey Trinculo who, during the rebellion against Prospero, is tricked into donning smart clothes from the Russian equivalent of Rodeo Drive. It's typical of a production that takes a familiar play and, through cultural cross-fertilisation, makes us see it in a new light. ichael Billington, The Guardian. 10 April 2011
Some of the most memorable incarnations of Shakespeare's 'Tempest' are the most magical ones: Patrick Stewart's Arctic Prospero commanded chilling shamanic powers, while Antony Sher's spectacular South African mage had a giant puppet serpent to do his bidding.
Cheek by Jowl's superb new production has no such tricks up its sleeve: this 'Tempest', in which an astonishing company of Russian actors is tossed about from terror to enlightenment on a bare stage, strips back the magic to reveal the bare power.
Igor Yaslovich's Prospero rules his island and his daughter Miranda (a semi-feral girl) with the embittered wisdom of an old-school docklands gangmaster. When the enemies who cast him out of his previous kingdom fall into his power, his forgiveness of them is wrung, symbolically, from the Russian struggle to reconcile Soviet-era collectivism with murder, or nouveau consumerism with hope.
The masque at which Prospero betrothes Miranda to the son of his enemy here is a traditional sickle dance, whose performers are grotesquely resplendent in painted wooden heads. And the drunken servants who try to seize Prospero's very real authority are diverted by a rack of irresistible designer suits and a credit card machine.
The physical language of the ensemble and the harsh, lovely rhythms of the Russian speech make an island of strange sounds. Water, poured from buckets by an uncanny collective Ariel (played by five men in identical suits) flows everywhere. It tortures sinners with a drip drip drip, bathes the fierce childish Miranda, and sloshes over her new lover, Ferdinand, like a baptism to cleanse his father's sins.
Prospero's slave Caliban (Alexander Feklistov) is extraordinary: an ox-necked, bare-chested, shaven-headed old bruiser who howls like a dog when Miranda, also keening in sorrow, is dragged away from him by her new husband. In the light of their mostrous innocence, the brave new world she's sailing to has rarely seemed so old, corrupt and cowardly. Caroline McGinn, Time Out. 5 April 2011
A thousand times more riveting is the "rough magic" practised by the spirit-summoning magus, Prospero, in Cheek by Jowl's world-class, touring production of The Tempest. This is performed by the company's mellifluous Russian ensemble, with English surtitles.
Igor Yasulovich's haggard Prospero, an ousted ruler, sits on a milk crate in shirt and braces. He might be a washed-up crazy in a Siberian outpost, yet his brooding is ferociously intense. His lip twitches and when he blinks, lightning flashes. Doors in a white wall behind him burst open and we glimpse - as it were in his mind's eye - his usurper-brother and entourage being violently storm-tossed at sea, drenched and yelling.
In Declan Donnellan's startling and insightful staging, Prospero is also a patriarch dispensing tough love to his child, Miranda. Indeed, aggression and affection are inextricably entwined in every relationship here - political and personal - right down to the comic subplot with a camp Trinculo and butch Stephano.
Anya Khalilulina's Miranda is a tender yet feral adolescent, with a dark cloud of hair. Father and daughter veer between fits of face-slapping and soothing kisses. She is instantly wild about the shipwrecked beefcake, Prince Ferdinand, naively unaware that the rough-and-tumble which Prospero halts is nearly rape - the young man arrogantly assuming droit de seigneur until punitively restrained.
Nor is Ferdinand a fully reformed Prince Charming at the close, savagely grabbing his bride away when she has run back, howling, to hug the lowly simpleton Caliban. Donnellan's ending hovers, unsettlingly, between a pessimistic and optimistic view of human nature.
There's also wonderful music and witty humour, though the video projections are a bit fuzzy. The post- Soviet satire is a delight when Miranda's wedding masque is staged like an old-school Communist opera: the harvest goddess, Ceres, a collectivist peasant, and Prospero's manifold Ariels prancing as a chorus line of sickle-waving reapers. See this. Kate Bassett, The Independent on Sunday. 5 March 2011
Rarely has there been a Tempest so running with water. Trinculo - a swivel-hipped dandy - is tortured by having it dripped on his coiffure. Buckets of the stuff are tipped on heads from on high. A slavering Caliba watches Miranda being bathed. Ferdinand gets an all-over shower. A marine-coloured set is dappled with light to give the effect of rigging.
Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod have brought Cheek by Jowl's Russian company back to tour Britain with a production that brings not only aqueous but sonic beauty to the stage, with clarinet, drums and accordion twitching characters into life, though sometimes no louder than distant bird call.
The Russianness is central. Wave after wave of the history of the former Soviet Union sweeps over the stage, mapping neatly on to the Shakespearean action: there's a sickle dance and a masque performed by headscarved grotesques; the lowlifers become the dupes of capitalism, splurging on designer labels in a magically appearing department store. When Miranda talks of a "brave new world" she could be describing a new social order.
Equally crucial is a sensual strength that the play sometimes loses among its jewelled moments. Prospero has the ferocious dedication of an artist. Ariel slips across the stage as if blown by the wind. Miranda is almost feral. When she feels her father needs protection, she wraps all her limbs around him. When a pearl choker is put around her neck, she resists it as if it were a halter. And when she comes to leave Caliban, two wails rise up from the stage: that of the gap-toothed, bull-like, old-style Soviet thug, and that of the girl, belonging to the new order but still attached to her monster. Susannah Clapp, The Observer. 13 March 2011
The enchanted isle is a cheerless room, its three doors flapping in the howling wind.
Prospero, gaunt and grizzled in braces and shirtsleeves, is given to bluster and bullying, and seeks to control a semi-feral Miranda with blows and caresses. Declan Donnellan's production for Cheek by Jowl's Russian ensemble is characteristically rich: moments of exquisite lyricism elide with anguish and violence, amid evocations of communism and contemporary consumerism. The staging, mesmerisingly performed in Russian with surtitles, is fluid, conveying the viewer through the action with tidal force. Water is everywhere. It bursts through the doorways of Nick Ormerod's set, drenching the mariners aboard their foundering ship. It's poured with amused malice by a black-suited, barefoot, pale Ariel and his identically clad attendant spirits from a watering can on to the head of a shivering, comically camp Trinculo. And it's used by Prospero to bathe first the wayward Miranda, and later Ferdinand, after he has been beaten and worked to the point of collapse.
As the island's tottering despot, Igor Yasulovich is engrossing. His efforts to tame Miranda (Anya Khalilulina) are an unsettling blend of paternal care and brutality. She repeatedly rebels, stripping away her clothes to wash before the abused Caliban (Alexander Feklistov), with whom she enjoys a touching closeness. On first seeing Ferdinand, she bites him before exploring his body with hungry sensuality. And when Prospero fastens a string of pearls around her neck, she struggles as though it were a yoke. The political implications crystallise when the masque is danced by peasants carrying sheaves of wheat or sickles, accompanied by projected images from a Soviet propaganda film. And when Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban raid Prospero's cave, they stumble into a designer boutique, equipped with credit cards. The final image, as Caliban and Ariel win their freedom, is equivocal: the distressed Miranda is dragged away, screaming, to her brave new world, while the two remaining islanders gaze at one another, lost. It's an astute and absorbing vision of cruelty and compassion. Sam Marlowe, The Times. 11 March 2011
Théatre Les Gémeaux in Sceaux is presenting a production from Moscow's Chekhov drama festival. The director himself is not new to this theatre, but this is something total novel. This is literally 'child's play', full of references to the place from which it springs.. It is faithful and outrageous, comic and moving. It is Irish and Russian. It is a peak of world literature. It is Shakespeare at his greatest, at his most universal.
No time to say more now, but I do urge you to get to Sceaux, where, Françoise Letellier is once again playing host to Declan Donnellan and his designer Nick Ormerod. This time they are putting on one of Shakespeare's great plays, but with a company of Russian actors ... Is it intellectual snobbery to go to Sceaux to hear Shakespeare in Russian? No. On Sunday the audience wouldn't let go of the actors, who had moved them so much, who had entertained and surprised and them, and filled everyone of them with wonder.
Declan Donnellan cuts to the very heart of the play but he does it with a child's touch. Nick Ormerod has set this 'child's play' in the simplest of spaces - wood, doors, passages, a minimum of props - using projected images which are both disturbing and amusing.
This production was staged first in Russia before a Russian audience ... But we'll reveal no more. There are some real surprises! But I guarantee you will be impressed by Prospero, charmed by Ariel, touched by Caliban and heart-broken when little Miranda refuses to be torn from her beautiful island, the verdant paradise of childhood.
Don't miss it! Armelle Héliot, Le Figaro. 30 January 2011
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Mossovyet Theatre, Moscow, UK
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Oxford Playhouse, Oxford, UK
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Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, UK
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Les Gemeaux, Sceaux, Paris, France