If you saw Theatre Arcturus’ Weird at the 2015 Ottawa Fringe Festival, then you certainly won’t want to miss their newest offering Rough Magic, playing at Venue 2: Academic Hall. It’s high-flying fun that puts two of Shakespeare’s more colourful characters- Ariel and Caliban- front and centre as a sort-of prequel to the events that take place in The Tempest. You don’t need a thorough knowledge of the original text to enjoy this piece, there’s quite a lot for you to sink your teeth into without being a Shakespeare buff; but as is the case with the genre of adaptation, having that background knowledge adds another fun little element.

Rough Magic 4 (cred. Larry Carroll)
Pictured: Lindsay Bellaire and Phillip Psutka; Photography by Larry Carroll

To be completely honest: I’ve never read The Tempest and I’ve only seen it performed as another adaptation by A Company of Fools back in 2014. I know. In any case, I was relieved when creator-performer Phillip Psutka mentioned at Preview Night that it is not necessary to know Shakespeare’s text in order to follow along with Rough Magic. I think he’s right for the most part, now having seen the show: the interactions and the tensions between the air sprite Ariel and the “ground-dwelling mortal” Caliban are very Classic in their roots utilizing an ‘innocence versus experience’ trope; and the questioning of religion versus faith (polytheism versus monotheism) is certainly not exclusive to Shakespeare.

Not to mention, the aerial work (which is arguably the major thrust of this company’s performance aesthetic; and also no pun intended) is pretty incredible. Lindsay Bellaire perfectly embodies Ariel’s otherworldly aura and she displays such strength through her graceful choreography in the silks. I think her feet touch the ground maybe 3 or 4 times throughout the whole show (?) which is kind of amazing when you see the variety of ways she’s able to keep herself suspended above the ground (side note: any time she takes both of her hands off the silks I was just so impressed because I still can’t figure out for certain how she does it). Psutka also deserves a mention in this regard who, even though he remains on the ground for most of the show as a contrast to Ariel’s nature, has a couple really endearing moments where Caliban is “learning how to fly”.

I will be honest, the Shakespearean verse that makes up the characters’ dialogue feels a bit clunky at times and could definitely serve to be tightened up a bit in the future, however, given that I bore witness to the literal premiere of this piece I think that’s kind of understandable. Not being familiar with the text or the characters I feel like there were some things that went over my head that someone who does know the original text would probably enjoy- though that’s not to say that that in any way detracted from my overall experience of the show, only that I feel like I want to read The Tempest now (which, I think, is the job of any good adaptation).

Overall, Rough Magic is an hour well spent. We don’t see much aerial performance happen in Ottawa (I see you Cirque du Soleil), so I wouldn’t miss this opportunity to see the work of this company who are taking classic play-texts and are attempting to take them to a whole other level…literally.

Rough Magic

By Phillip Psutka

Produced by Theatre Arcturus

Venue 2: Academic Hall

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