Sitting in the corner of the stage with the lights dimmed, Alexander Mackenzie successfully builds an atmosphere of anticipation for his show The Tempest and The Teller, a bold re-interpretation of Shakespeare’s iconic play. Mackenzie pre-warns the audience somewhat nervously about the experimental nature of his show, noting his uncertainty about its success as a coherent performance and asking the audience to remember to leave feedback. This open honesty about the performance as a bit avant-garde, a theatrical experiment, quickly builds a buzz. The audience is clearly invested and excited to see if the show will deliver on its promise.
On the whole, it does deliver. Mackenzie is a captivating presence on stage and snaps from his direct address to the audience to his onstage persona, kickstarting the show with a truly theatrical portrayal of the storm which opens the original Tempest. His light and sound design is flawless, breaking up the segments of the play which he has chosen to perform, linking together discordant scenes into a powerful narrative. A production of any Shakespeare play in fifty minutes is bold, but Mackenzie pushes this further by transforming it into a one-man show, making his achievement even more impressive.
Perhaps in recognition of his audience’s presumed familiarity of the original text, Mackenzie guides them through the key events by projecting images of his own artwork onto a screen at the back of the stage. These visual aids are a smart choice as they prevent the audience from getting lost in the chronology, as well as keeping the performance fresh and engaging by expanding it into a more immersive experience. This choice to fully immerse the audience into the show through music, light, and art is the key to what makes Mackenzie’s performance so powerful, and a sign that the experimental format he has chosen was a worthy risk.
It is unfortunate then that the show wraps up quite abruptly, following a lyrical discussion of the nature of love within the play. The contrast between Mackenzie’s mediations and his concluding notes is stark – perhaps a renegotiation of the ending would help elevate the show to its full potential.
However, ultimately The Tempest and The Teller is a success and proves that Mackenzie’s experimental combination of storytelling, music and art pays off a creates and engaging and fresh reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s classic The Tempest.
The Tempest and the Teller was performed on 28 October 2019 as part of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival. You can find more details about the festival, and buy tickets for future events, here.
Image: Alex MacKenzie