The Tempest (2012/13)
Directed by Matt Edgerton
Written by William Shakespeare
December 14, 2012 to January 20, 2013
We may never know whether this was the last complete play written by Shakespeare. Oxford University Professor Emma Smith suggests that this persistent belief is rooted in our wish to make the play represent Shakespeare’s farewell to the stage. A romantic notion which comes with dangerous baggage: that of reading the character of Prospero as Shakespeare and the story we are watching as one he is writing. This is, I have come to believe, the quickest way to destroy the drama in The Tempest and to mute a play which ought to roar like a storm.
The play is called The Tempest not because of a noisy first scene but because peace and calm, inner and outer, only come at the very end when Prospero has managed to overcome his anger, his wish for revenge and his need for power.
- Peter Brook
As we dug into the play we found in Prospero a character full of oceanic passions. Why does someone shut themself off from the world and study magic? What gives someone a desire for that kind of godlike power? What kind of a man raises his daughter without telling her a single thing about her past? Who would adopt a child only to then make them his slave? As Damien Ryan and I explored the text, we travelled further and further away from a vision of Prospero as a wise old wizard. We found Shakespeare’s Prospero had more in common with Allie Fox, the obsessive visionary in Paul Theroux’s The Mosquito Coast, who drags his family into the jungle and to the point of death with his burning desire to reshape society. We found in Prospero a character unable to forgive, slowly killing himself with his own bitterness. This man must learn to let go of his power and position and this journey is the fundamental dramatic movement in the play.
Miranda: O brave new world that hath such people in’t
Prospero: ‘Tis new to thee
The Tempest is not, however, a play just about one man. Rather it is a dazzling example of competing perspectives. Aside from Prospero the lines are distributed very evenly across the rest of the cast – it is genuinely a play with a dozen main characters. Soliloquies and asides are Shakespeare’s way of allowing the audience to identify with a character through giving us a window into their inner life. As I started to hear this play in the mouths of the cast, what struck me was the number of main characters that speak to the audience: virtually all of them. Each has a distinct voice and remarkably different perspective on every aspect of life, from morality and spirituality to civilisation, family and government. If Shakespeare has a voice in The Tempest it is not Prospero’s – is heard in the spaces between what each character says: in the contradictions and ambiguities thrown up about freedom and slavery, civilisation and barbarism, legacy and letting go, lust and chastity, youth and age, revenge and forgiveness.
A map of the world that does not contain Utopia is not even worth glancing at
- Oscar Wilde
As we were researching for the show, Belinda Hoare (who plays the goddess Juno and the ship’s master in the play) sent me the previous quote from Oscar Wilde. The Tempest is unavoidably a play that asks how we ought run a society and the sentiment above could have come from the mouth of the counsellor and utopian visionary Gonzalo. From the first moments of the play, order in society is turned upside down: on a ship in a storm we are confronted with the fact that everyone is equal in the face of death. “What care these roarers for the name of queen?” the Boatswain asks. Once ashore, the island becomes a microcosm of the world with those living on the island the latest arrivals by boat fighting for control. And woven through all of this is the family: the political as personal – territory and blood inextricably linked.
Suffer a sea-change into something rich and strange
The unavoidable, central image of the play is the ocean. We begin in a storm at sea which changes the lives of every character. The sea is a place of death but also rebirth. People threaten to drown themselves in the ocean and it is the final burial place of Prospero’s magic when he ‘drowns his book’. The ‘bare island’ of our story is literally surrounded by ocean and Prospero’s plea at the end of the play is to be set free, to sail home. WH Auden says that the sea in this play ‘misuses nothing because it values nothing’. The sea is a place of transformation but it also represents the capriciousness of nature, chaos or fate. We have embraced this sense of the ocean in our production with, among other things, a genuine ship’s wheel salvaged from the shipyards in Albany used as a centrepiece for our design. There is a strong tension in the play between the desire to build and the joy at new growth, and the realisation that whatever we build will ultimately be destroyed by an ocean.
Be not afeared, the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not
I am writing these notes the day after our rehearsal of the scene from which the above lines are drawn. It is a strange moment in which three misfits, drunk on stolen wine, hear a strange noise and two of them become terrified. It is Caliban, the ‘monster’ ‘moon-calf’ and ‘devil’ who comforts the others, moving effortlessly into verse with this remarkable and surprising speech. It deeply affected the other actors when Yalin Ozucelik spoke the words for the first time on the floor, as it should. As Caliban notices, his island is suffused with sweet airs, with strange music: melancholic, hopeful, sedating, alarming or spiritually restorative. This is Shakespeare’s most musical play, a kind of proto-musical before the genre existed. And all the music has a dramatic function – it is all intrinsic to the meaning of the work. Getting the tone right for this has been so important and I have to thank Naomi Livingston for her beautiful work on this.
Every man shift for all the rest and let no man take care of himself for all is but fortune
The production has been a true ensemble experience with a number of actors taking on other roles as well. As mentioned, Naomi Livingston who plays Ariel has also composed all of the music for the ensemble, Lizzie Schebesta who plays Miranda has also stepped in as our dance and movement coach and Damien Ryan who plays Prospero has brought a wealth of theatrical wisdom into the rehearsal room and profoundly helped to shape the story we are telling. All of the actors have had input on design, costumes and the meaning of this story. It has been a rare pleasure to let our design evolve as we develop the work and we hope you enjoy what we’ve come up with together.
Photography by Takaya Honda
Aaron Tsindos | Spirit
Amy Mathews | Alonsa
Anthony Gooley | Mariner
Belinda Hoare | Master of the Ship
Christopher Stalley | Spirit
Christopher Tomkinson | Boatswain
Damien Ryan | Prospero
Danielle King | Sebastia
Eloise Winestock | Ceres
Francesca Savige | Spirit
Gabriel Fancourt | Ferdinand
George Banders | Stephano
James Lugton | Antonio
Keith Agius | Gonzalo
Lizzie Schebesta | Miranda
Megan Drury | Spirit
Naomi Livingston | Ariel
Sam Haft | Trinculo
Scott Sheridan | Mariner
Tyran Parke | Spirit
Yalin Ozucelik | Caliban
Andrea Corish | Stage Manager
Anna Gardiner | Costume Designer
Damien Ryan | Artistic Director/Dramaturg
David Stalley | Sound Design / Videography
James Lugton | Business Manager
Jeremy Page | Technical Manager/Operator
Matt Edgerton | Director
Naomi Livingston | Music Composition
Nick Catran | Set Construction
Oliver Burton | Publicity and Venue Liaison
Ruth Horsfall | Assistant Stage Manager
Scott Witt | Fight Director / Movement
Toby Knyvett | Lighting Designer