Shakespeare’s Tempest in Italy. After the Tempest, directed by Armando Punzo with prisoners of La Fortezz in Volterra; Before Break, choreography by Michela Lucenti with Collettivo Balletto Civile in Vicenza; Prospero / WS, directed by Massimo Munaro at Teatro del Lemming in Vicenza.

Claudia Provvedini*

claudine-provvedini

The 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, in 2016, was widely celebrated also in Italy (and yet, the possible Italian origin of his family is still not being considered, despite the exhaustive testimony of Lamberto Tassinari in the essay translated into French by Michel Vais.[1] See also my review, posted to Rumorscena, on May 20, 2016[2]). Of Shakespeare’s vast body of works, Italian actors and directors seemed to prefer The Tempest. I will consider three very different shows, all inspired by this same text and represented in the past season.

One of the inmate-actors of Compagnia La Fortezza of Volterra in After The Tempest. He is climbing a ladder while reciting a text from works by Shakespeare. Direction by Armando Punzo. Photo by Stefano Vaja
One of the inmate-actors of Compagnia La Fortezza of Volterra in After The Tempest. He is climbing a ladder while reciting a text from works by Shakespeare. Direction by Armando Punzo. Photo by Stefano Vaja

The first of the three shows that I will take into account, for the particular way it was made, which involved two years of work and special interpreters, is After The Tempest, directed and performed by Armando Punzo, together with over twenty inmates-actors from the maximum security prison La Fortezza in Volterra. During a festival of the same name held in July, the creatures of Shakespeare’s imagination that accuse him of bringing out only violence and low instincts, were coming and going in the prison courtyard as spirits in white or black costumes inspired by long African skirts.

While some of the best known characters kept repeating in a loop the gestures of their stories (these include Desdemona, Macbeth, Richard III), the poet, embodied by Punzo himself in black jeans, was blowing into their mouths words of repentance and forgiveness, just like the magician Prospero at the end of Shakespeare’s Tempest. Here, the reference to the condition of “characters-prisoners” certainly hints to the situation of “prisoners-actors,” but is stripped of any moral message. Only the power of creation, which can turn against its creator or ask for fairness as to a god, and the exceptional presence of bodies and props, was left on stage.

On the extraordinary stage of Teatro Olimpico di Vicenza, the dancers of Balletto Civile in Before Break fight and play with a sailor’s rope to save themselves. Direction and choreography by Michela Lucenti. Photo by Luigi de Frenza
On the extraordinary stage of Teatro Olimpico di Vicenza, the dancers of Balletto Civile in Before Break fight and play with a sailor’s rope to save themselves. Direction and choreography by Michela Lucenti. Photo by Luigi de Frenza

These last two elements, as in bodies and objects, are at the centre of the physical theatre of Michela Lucenti, choreographer and interpreter of Before Break, together with the theatre group Collettivo Balletto Civile, which premiered at the Renaissance Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza. It was about identifying the tension, the fear before the breaking point, the “break” which is Shakespeare’s The Tempest, according to Lucenti; the tension of the characters/dancers followed in some way the Shakespearean line, but these were, above all, aspects of life and death struggling around a large and red sailor’s rope, stretched to the point of dissolution of their artistic or abstract ties in the name of a mutual forgiveness, real and humane. The live music was entrusted to the cello of Julia Kent.

The two shows share a certain orientation towards the concept of forgiveness: one might not miss the influence that the recent essay by Peter Brook, The quality of forgiveness (2013), might have had on them.[3] But also, I believe, the special atmosphere felt in Italy for the continuous exhortations of the Pope towards forgiveness, as a gesture of openness and generosity to others.

A moment from Prospero / WS of Teatro del Lemming, directed in the Basilica of Palladium in Vicenza by Massimo Munaro. All the characters meet each others around their author
A moment from Prospero / WS of Teatro del Lemming, directed in the Basilica of Palladium in Vicenza by Massimo Munaro. All the characters meet each others around their author

Finally, at the Basilica Palladiana in Vicenza, the Teatro del Lemming saw in The Tempest the story of a shipwreck that happens, above all, in the protagonist’s mind. It is as if Shakespeare himself, in the figure of Prospero, from the bottom of the sea, evokes, like in a delirium, the endless characters of his works: Hamlet, Juliet, Macbeth, Lear, Richard, Brutus . . . who return to visit him. These figures also represent fragments, parts of a composite/complex identity which is that of the poet and that of us all. The shipwreck in the memory of Prospero / WS—this is the title—is also a shipwreck in our minds. But the piece wants to be a research around the meaning and the way of making theatre today. Theatre can still represent a radical experience, based, as in WS Tempest, on a new concept of space, using all degrees of perspective.

Theatre can also think back to the viewer/spectator/audience as a constitutive part of its dramaturgy: here, the spectators, as in Shakespeare, are co-authors of the drama/piece. Because of their live and active presence, because it is up to them to re-weave the logos through the thread of their own experience, “surrender to the emotions,” writes director Massimo Munaro, “be overwhelmed by the storm of a dream world we do not understand, but from which we sprung and to which, like ghosts of the theatre, we all, like Prospero, are destined to return.”

Investigating the idea of “New-ness” in theatre, the participants in the 2016 World Congress, which took place in Belgrade (under the auspices of the Bitef Festival and IATC), stressed the relationship between actor and spectator as the most fundamental principle (“le nouveau de resistance,” according to Georges Banu). Theatre can be, as claimed by Grotowski, a vehicle of new forms, policies, relationships. Delegates from Iran, Arab countries, Russia, Turkey and Greece have reported that “the new” may be synonymous to “different” compared to the past (that is, pre/post Islam), a vehicle of freedom of expression, a chance to test new technologies (Michel Vaïs, Canada). 


[1] Lamberto Tassinari. John Florio Alias Shakespeare, trans. Michel Vais, Le Bord de L’Eau, 2016.

[2] Claudia Provvedini, “John Florio Alias Shakespeare di Lamberto Tassinari,” Rumorscena May 20, 2016, http://www.rumorscena.com/20/05/2016/john-florio-alias-shakespeare-di-lamberto-tassinari

[3] Peter Brook, The quality of forgiveness, edited by Dino Audino. 


claudine-provvedini 

*Claudia Provvedini is a journalist and theatre critic. She has worked in the Culture and Entertainment section of the newspaper Corriere della Sera from 1990 to 2011 as an editor, and from 2003 as a critic, too, attending world shows and festivals. She graduated in Classical Philology and Social Communications with a thesis on the tragic in Nietzsche and Artaud. She is on the board of the Italian Association of Theatre Critics (ANCT).

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Italy Honours the Merciful Shakespeare