Untold Theatre and Yellowbelly Theatre combined the current refugee crisis with Shakespeare’s late play The Tempest. The play’s fantastical island setting was transformed into a migrant camp, to raise donations for Doctors without Borders and promote an awareness of those fleeing from terror and suffering in migrant camps. While the production was incredibly heartfelt, and the acting could not be flawed, little changes were made to the play’s plot, making its integration with the migration issue confusing with a mild dissonance in the comparison of Caliban’s fight for his home and the rise of nationalism in response to the refugee crisis.
The infamous lines echoed by islands native, ‘This island’s mine, by Syxorax my mother’ makes a claim for the land, from the position of the colonised. When the plot is related to current migration issues, the line originates from the wrong side, as Caliban desperately tries to take back his home from the western imperialist Prospero, who deems himself culturally superior. In 2016, the concern for land ownership comes from these same western imperialists.
Likewise, the play’s ending becomes problematic when partnered with the terrible circumstances refugees have no choice but to live in. Once Prospero achieves what he set out to do, restoring his place on the throne, he uses his magic to transport the nobles back to the safety of their European home. While this ending is perfectly suited to its Jacobean roots, its position alongside this pressing issue seems uncomfortable. As for migrants who are fleeing terror, without a home to turn to, there is no magic to warrant their safe return. Of course, the insensitivity was not intentional, yet some editing to the plot could have made the symbiosis of the play and its modern context work more harmoniously. Instead it felt like an original reconstruction, interrupted by footage of migration and politicians expressing their inhumane concerns.
Yet for these flaws, the production itself was beautifully staged and heartfelt. In the end, the overall moral message was communicated, and the importance of humanity in the face of such a widespread issue was clearly voiced.
It is Ariel, a spirit, who teaches his master the importance of human compassion. Ariel orders Prospero to behold the anguished state of the nobles, who are bewitched under his spell. Ariel’s lines ‘if you now beheld them, your affections / Would become tender’ and his claim ‘Mine would, sir, where I human’ are exceptionally poignant. When, as a privileged member of the human race, we are confronted with images of people suffering, in terrible living conditions– how do we not feel compassion?
Elena Angelides, Theatre Editor