"The Tempest" runs until May 12, 2019 at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton. // Supplied

Tempest with a twist: Dark drama includes Deaf and hearing actors on stage together

The Tempest
Citadel Theatre; until Sun., May 12.
Our Score
The Tempest

By Ariel Kroon

Josette Bushell-Mingo—formerly artistic director of the national Deaf theatre of Sweden, now head of acting at Stockholm University—directs the Citadel Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest with power and innovation. The performance is truly compelling for several reasons such as the casting—which features Deaf and hearing actors collaborating in the same production—the fantastic use of setting, and a dark, unsettling story of vengeance-fuelled insanity.

The entire performance was in English as well as American Sign Language (ASL), often simultaneously. With a multitude of the actors on stage at any given time, another character would step forward to translate for the audience—but not always. The meeting of Ferdinand (Braydon Dowler-Coltman) and Miranda (Thurga Kanagasekarampillai) is made new and fascinating by their attempt to communicate via Ferdinand’s half-remembered ASL, writing in the sand, and body language. Dowler-Coltman’s performance is impressive and acrobatic; his movements perfectly conveying to the audience his character’s being buffeted by waves and Prospero’s magics.  Kanagasekarampillai strikingly conveys the terror and bewilderment of Miranda at her father’s violence and the hesitant hope of finding a kindred spirit in Ferdinand despite their communication barrier.

A tactile display outside the theatre included costume mock-ups and materials from the ship used in the production—touching encouraged. // Ariel Kroon

The production includes fog machines as well as rain that pours from the ceiling to the stage—be prepared to get splashed if you are in the front few rows, especially during the climax of the play, when all characters are in violent conflict.My partner and I were in the second row and there was a moment when several characters fell near the lip of the stage, drenching the woman in front of us. Her expletive pulled us both out of the play for a moment, which was unfortunate, given its narrative importance; we were both slightly lost as to what was happening for the next five minutes.

Be prepared to pay close attention, however: the plot is intense and fast-paced, the entire production only 90 minutes long, and a lot happens in that time. Lorne Cardinal is by turns terrifying and scarily sympathetic in his portrayal of Prospero’s obvious love for Miranda and his anguish over their situation. As well, the use of over six different actors to play the single character of Ariel is an incredibly effective strategy, showcasing their ability to move as one, to shadow multiple characters through multiple plotlines in multiple places and at multiple times. This brings out how inhuman the spirit is meant to be, and ultimately highlighted the tragedy’s inherent strangeness and frightening nature.

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