Insubstantial Pageant—“The Tempest” by Bard in the Botanics: a review

Disconcerting, awkward, with some lucid moments, painful and embarrassing to witness, Nicole Cooper’s adaptation and direction of Shakespeare’s last solo play has almost none of the sympathetic magic of Bard in the Botanics’ Medea. Alan Steele underwhelms as Prospero, muttering majestic lines almost inaudibly while fidgeting with his ratty cardigan then suddenly giving vent to crazed shouted rants. Jennifer Dick, unlikely Ariel (why the purple hair?) and Nurse has rare moments of celestial spell casting but mostly is a wry, compassionate and practical carer. Lynsey-Anne Moffat is every woman who ever loved a failing father, as admirable Miranda, and nicely evil as Antonio. Nicole Cooper, in time-honoured tradition of the director stepping in for an absent actor, brought a butch n’ femme energy to her romantic role as Ferdinand and at least some petulant power to Caliban.

Halfway through, when I really wanted to leave, I observed my emotional reaction and worked out why I hated it. I’m an unpaid carer, both my parents have had dementia. My employer is trying to sack me for standing up for disabled rights. I’m just back from a short holiday which was (mostly) lovely for my mother but no respite for me. I was looking forward to an evening of captivating escapism and instead I was confronted with all my domestic stress onstage.

The craft of theatre is such that last month I was ready to forgive a murderess of children and yet this I struggle to find sympathy with an old man losing his mind. The most poignant part for me (I didn’t cry) was Prospero failing to turn on the radio. I saw my father hopefully pushing the DVD of The Great Escape into the video recorder.

No, it didn’t make sense. The glasshouse/ care-home transition wasn’t clear and the cross-dressed actors playing doubled roles of characters mistaken by a mad old man, switching often without a change of costume, was confusing. Ariel’s prettiest lines were spoken to the lively golden carp in the pond as she exited towards the sound desk—and throwing away Miranda’s most famous line on a potted plant is frankly unforgivable.

But it’s the banality of death by dementia, gradually losing the loved one who once stood robed in might and could command the elements, that’s the drama of this performance which I was so desperate to avoid. Because I can’t and no-one who cares can.

Disconcerting, awkward, with some lucid moments, painful and embarrassing to witness, dementia is a misunderstood tragicomedy happening all around us. Caring for someone losing their mind means bursting into tears at the sink, drying your eyes and making yet another bloody cup of tea.

I hated this performance because it took me inside a failing mind, once so wise, that I can’t fix. Go see it!

Suited portly older White man with beard holds a lit lantern in advert for The Tempest: adapted & directed by Nicole Cooper. 14th-30th July.

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