National Eisteddfod Wales
8th August 2012
Ystorm is Gwyneth Lewis Welsh language translation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. A tale full of power, jealousy and revenge: Prospero was the Duke of Milan but his love of the dark arts and his library led him to invite his brother Antonio to share the power. Antonio then conspired with the King of Naples Alonso to usurp Prospero and send him to a far flung island. It is Gonzalo who allows Prospero to take supplies and his books. It is on this island that the story starts, where Prospero has used is powers and servant Ariel to shipwreck his enemies on his island where the lets them wander, tormented by dreams and spirits. Ferdinand is split from his father Alonso and thinks him dead but at sight of Miranda (Prospero’s daughter); Ferdinand falls madly in love and submits to Prospero’s servitude to prove he loves her. It is Prospero’s aim to regain his Dukedom and teach his enemies the lessons they deserve yet it is Prospero who also learns lessons – to treat his enemies with honour and to be the better man.
Directed by Elen Bowman Ystorm is part of the World Shakespeare Festival, in conjunction with the London 2012 celebrations.
As a first language English speaker and admittedly only Welsh language learner, I walked in concerned as to how much I was going to understand but within moments the performance took over and entranced the soul.
The continual movement and use of the whole space as the cast mingled in amongst the audience added another level to the performance. The surtitles were good for keeping up where the story was when you couldn’t quite remember the next part but the non-fluent audience did not have to rely on them - just listening to the language was a pleasure.
Members of the acclaimed Citrus Arts are part of the cast, lending their unique physical brand of circus theatre to the performance, using the tent scaffold to its full potential, as spirits flying around the sky (with aerial equipment) and adding a carnival atmosphere to the scene (using fire and floor equipment) when Prospero uses his powers to conjure up a fantasy for Miranda and Ferdinand and Ariel calls forth the Gods of the land.
Ariel is a character trapped by the lure of freedom and Meilir Rhys Williams plays him perfectly, he is at once the unearthly, playful mischievous spirit and the loving servant. Along with his team of spirits the choreography was fantastic, playing with the human characters minds – working around them as if invisible with perfect timing and grace.
The performance space – a purpose built tent - was a warm sandy island in the middle of an ocean of mud, replicating the remote island Prospero was cast out to and transports the audience into the Shakespearean world as they took their seats on tiered platforms around the tent.
Trinculo (Hugh Thomas) and Stephano (Siôn Pritchard) were the perfectly pitched comic relief against the more powerful, emotional turmoil’s played out by the larger characters with their brilliantly timed drunken antics and petty greed putting their own instant gratification above all else. When they come across Caliban hiding from Prospero they turn him into a willing drinker as he happily submits to being their servant not Prospero’s. Caliban’s character also provides a different angle to the story: after all he is the original inhabitant of the island – given the role of the brutish uncivilized slave he is another innocent in the equation, used harshly by Prospero for his own ends.
A brilliant show I would definitely recommend and I look forward to further productions by Theatre Genedlaethol Cymru.
Y Storm is at the United Counties Showground, Camarthe 18-21 September and
Faenol Estate, Bangor 2-6 October