Renowned French travelling theatre, Footsbarn has been touring a remarkable adaptation of Shakespeare’s acclaimed work called the Indian Tempest. The play combines English, Malayam, French and Sanskrit dialogue.
"We work with human material that deals with feeling and passion, so [the] audience is transported."
With a twist on the Shakespeare classic, the Indian Tempest arrived at the Globe theatre in London in July 2013. Bringing a flavour of East meets West, the production portrays a mix of Indian and European actors.
Founded by the travelling theatre company Footsbarn, the Indian Tempest has just finished a year-long tour around Europe and India ending with London as its last stop.
The production tells the story of Prospero, exiled Duke of Milan and the magical island he has since become ruler of. Wanting his original land back, he raises a magical storm to shipwreck his usurpers when they sail near the island.
His daughter, Miranda is also used to create a new political alliance. The main focus of this adaptation is to focus on Caliban’s journey, from king to slave, and then gain master of the island.
The French theatre company is renowned for its exciting circus-esque productions, taking the world of Shakespeare and Moliere and presenting them in a new, vibrant and visually magical light.
In 1971, rehearsals began in a barn owned by the Foot family in Cornwall. The theatre group went off to France with hopes of entertaining an international audience.
They have gone on to produce around 60 plays and travelled to six continents. With their cast and crew from India, England, France and many more to mention, they have achieved an international status.
The Indian Tempest adaptation came to life in Guimaraes, Portugal. Friends and colleagues from Kerala joined actors, designers and musicians for inspiration. After three months of becoming part of the local community and holding social evenings, the Indian Tempest was born.
With an international cast, the production takes this in account in its performance. Performed in English, Malayalam, French and Sanskrit, the Indian Tempest offers a visual journey throughout its telling.
Actor Reghoothaman Domodaran Pillai plays Prospero, and Gopalakrishnan Kundamkumarath plays Ariel.
It is interesting to see how they combine the sacred Shakespearean language with dialects of Kerala. All of a sudden, the island seems more exotic and foreign to the audience member.
The love of Miranda and Ferdinand occurs in the Romance of Love, French, while all of the villainous characters including Alfonso, Antonio and Gonzalo speak only in English.
It is interesting then to see how different classes and themes are explored though various languages – each adding its own layer of metaphorical symbolism.
Director Paddy Hayter looks to evoke themes of power, desire, illusion and rebellion in this piece. Having had already directed and starred in many of Footsbarn’s productions, he knew how he wanted this play to come across.
Speaking about the collective effort of the production cast and crew, Hayter says:
“It is a collective, collaborative work, I may have a vision and might be headed in a particular direction but I am not a director who has 1000 ideas. The worst enemy of an actor is the director.”
The Tempest is perhaps one of Shakespeare’s most iconic plays with its obvious post-colonial references:
“It has been done before but it is such a rich and mysterious plot it does not get old, a story of bloodless revenge and reconciliation you can go back to it,” admits Hayter.
“The Tempest is mysterious and abstract, it is not for us to interpret it for the public. Our duty is to make sure we tell a story.
“All these great works talk about universal, cosmic, human situations – man, woman, child, planet, nature – things you don’t find in modern writing. We work with human material that deals with feeling and passion, so [the] audience is transported, rather than have them analyse the play,” Hayter adds.
Actor Joseph Cunningham, who takes part in the production, joined Footsbarn in 1972. He has gone on to appear in over 50 productions, playing more than 200 roles. This not being his first Shakespeare role, he has played the parts of Macduff in Macbeth to Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Keralan actor, Shaji Karyat who plays Sebastian and Trinculo loved Footsbarn’s touring circus concept:
“It is one thing to stay in one place and ask the audience to come to you but a whole other to go to the audience,” he says.
Footsbarn is well known for fusing a number of languages and performance styles together and the Indian Tempest is no exception to this matter. Traditional costumes and an array of Indian instruments weave through the company’s unconventional yet powerful connection, to honour Shakespeare’s piece.
The European leg of the Indian Tempest has finished at London’s Globe theatre and will continue throughout August 2013 in France.
Photos by Mark Douet
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