Review: Freewill Shakespeare Festival's The Tempest brings wonder outdoors

Edmonton’s Freewill Shakespeare delights in their latest offering, making its way to a community league near you

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The weather around the Bard’s latest Edmonton journey is treacherous, but brave audiences have much to gain from The Tempest, the latest outdoor Shakespearean production.

The Tempest is this year’s sole performance from the Freewill Shakespeare Festival, a travelling show that will make its way around the city on a one-month tour. Audiences can expect a magically good time and more than a few laughs, an absolutely delightful and fun show perfect for a midsummer evening.

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It all starts with the ill-fated voyage of Italian nobility, caught up in a tempest (I see what Shakespeare did there) and wrecked on a deserted island. But this is no ordinary storm, nor an ordinary island; it’s the home of Prospera, the deposed Duchess of Milan.

Prospera has learned to control the magic of the island and her faithful island spirit Ariel has brought the nobility ashore, safe and sound. Now that they have arrived, the Queen of Naples, her son Ferdinand, and a few other nobles are caught up in Prospera’s machinations, a merry-go-round of regicide and usurpations. Imagine Gilligan’s Island except the crew are armed, everyone has one eye on the crown and even the island has a stake in the game.

Freewill Shakespeare Edmonton
Chariz Faulmino (left) as Miranda, and Nadien Chu as Prospera in Freewill Shakespeare Festival’s production of The Tempest, playing at venues across Edmonton this summer. Photo by Brianne Jang edm

Nadien Chu absolutely commands as Prospera, a female version of the original’s Prospero. She holds nothing back, exuding kindness and generosity when dealing with her loved ones and an overbearing intensity when she’s admonishing the Italian nobility shipwrecked on her new home.

While the main plot line revolves around Prospera and her return to her place ruling Milan, it’s Jessy Ardern and Troy O’Donnell who steal the show as the two fools, the jester Trinculo and the butler Stephano. Separated from their overbearing employers, the pair find a stash of wine and get fall-down drunk, eventually dragged into the scheming of the island by the monster Caliban.

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Ardern and O’Donnell deliver their lines with clarity and conviction while they stumble about the stage, getting progressively more inebriated as the play moves along. By the end, the pair are a mess, and their drunken antics had the entire audience in stitches. Brett Dahl slinks and slithers around the stage with just enough sliminess to sell his monstrous form, but joins in on the clowning to form one of the funniest trios on an outdoor hockey rink stage.

The set design for The Tempest is sparse bordering on paltry. A large scaffolding draped in green netting stands in for the island, with a few bales of plastic as adornment. The minimalist set makes sense for a show that will have four different homes over the course of a month, durable enough to stand up to multiple moves and versatile enough to fit in different locations. But it would have been nice to see just a touch more … something.

Freewill Shakespeare Edmonton
Freewill Shakespeare Festival presents the Tempest at venues across Edmonton this summer. Photo by Brianne Jang edm

Where the summer colours truly pop are the wonderful and varied props and costume design, the splashes of colour and material standing out brilliantly against the covered scaffolding. Whether it’s giant spirit masks of flowing plastic or the terrifying angler scaring the island’s unwanted guests, the props bring wonder and amazement to the outdoor show.

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It’s also important to note the beauty and unpredictability of that outdoor space. It brings a majesty to the surroundings and dovetails with the environmental themes in the set dressing, but it also means you have to be prepared for anything. Bring a hat, a lawn chair and maybe a blanket – the temperature can drop when the sun dips below the horizon.

The community league setting also means you can bring your own drinks and snacks, a major plus at a time when entertainment budgets are already stretched to their limit. But keep in mind this isn’t your living room and other patrons don’t want to hear you guzzle Mountain Dew Baja Blast while crunching through a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Maybe put a bit of thought into what you shove in your mouth.

The Tempest is a wonder-filled show perfect for fans of The Bard looking to get out and enjoy the weather and a bit of iambic pentameter. Of course, keep an eye on the sky to watch for sudden storms that could derail your plans.

The Tempest

Theatre: Freewill Shakespeare Festival, at various community leagues

Written by: William Shakespeare

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Directed by: David Horak

When: Crestwood from June 20-23; Kenilworth from June 25-30; Lessard from July 2-7; Sherbrooke from July 9-14

Tickets: $35, $25 for senior and students, available at Pay-what-you-will on Tuesday night and Saturday matinee.

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