15 Jul The Tempest
Directed by Andrew Hilton
25 March – 01 May 2010
Production Photos © Graham Burke 2010
As a companion to A Midsummer Night’s Dream in our 2010 ‘Art to Enchant’ Season we offered our first production of The Tempest, following through from the earlier comedy with various elements of design and casting, whilst locating its action more specifically in the Jacobean period. What the two plays have in common – fairy spirits, magic, and forms of wilderness and exile – are easy to detail. Where they differ in tone, focus and perspective is expressive of a great part of a lifetime between their compositions, towards the start and at the end of Shakespeare’s career.
The focus has shifted – from the playthings of the magician Oberon in the earlier play, to the magician himself, Prospero, in the later one. And from the chaotic reversals of late adolescent love in a midnight forest to the hard-digested contemplation of fatherhood and filial betrayal on a desert island.
Ship’s Master & Trinculo Felix Hayes
Boatswain David Plimmer
1st Mariner Nicholas Prasad
2nd Mariner Jerome Thompson
Alonso Jonathan Nibbs
Gonzalo John Nicholas
Sebastian Alan Coveney
Antonio Peter Clifford
Ferdinand Benjamin Askew
Adrian Jack Hardwick
Prospero Ian Barritt
Miranda Ffion Jolly
Ariel & Caliban Christopher Staines
Stephano Chris Donnelly
Director Andrew Hilton
Associate Director/Editor Dominic Power
Assistant Director Sophie Howard
Set & Costume Designer Harriet de Winton
Costume Supervisor Rosalind Marshall
Composer John Telfer
Sound Designer Dan Jones
Lighting Designer Matt Graham
Puppet Maker & Director Sara Easby
Production Manager Jo Cuthbert
Stage Manager Polly Meech
Deputy Stage Manager Eleanor Dixon
Assistant Stage Manager Rachel Isaacs
Costume Maintenance Sophie Borton
Costume Laundry Kim Winter
★★★ The Times Shakespeare’s enchanted isle is conjured, in Andrew Hilton’s production, with a simplicity that has become the stylistic hallmark of this miniature theatrical powerhouse. Four steel ladders at the corners are the sum total of the set; the storm and shipwreck that open the action are suggested with little more than sound, a few flashes of lightning, a swinging lantern and a length of taut rope.
Yet this is a staging sprinkled with magic; more homespun wise-man and fierce patriarch than necromancer with a boxful of flashy tricks, Ian Barritt’s Prospero nevertheless has a piercing gaze and a potent presence. He lays a hauntingly effective emphasis on the bittersweet melancholy of an ageing, wearied man relieved to be reaching the end of his life and laying aside his powers.
Ffion Jolly as Miranda Featured photo (top): Ian Barritt as Prospero
There’s a strong sense that this Prospero is a father figure not just to Ffion Jolly’s elfin, crop-haired Miranda, but to Ariel and Caliban too. In an innovation that proves dramatically rewarding, Hilton casts a single actor — Christopher Staines — as both the enslaved sprite and the twisted offspring of the witch Sycorax.
Staines transforms himself from one to the other simply by contorting his body and altering his voice from airy flute to gravelly growl, and there’s the neediness and resentment of children in their pleas and complaints to their tyrannical parent. “Do you love me, master? No?” Ariel implores wistfully. The two creatures are clearly flipsides of the same coin, and when Prospero finally frees them Staines stands upright and walks away, neither deformed wretch nor dancing faerie, but human and whole at last.
Felix Hayes as Trinculo
… the drunken mayhem between Caliban, Felix Hayes’s big-babyish Trinculo and Chris Donnelly’s staggering, spitting, belching sot Stephano is riotous fun, and the flowering tenderness between Jolly’s Miranda and Benjamin Askew’s rather touchingly gawky Ferdinand, who gazes at her with dopey devotion, is touchingly handled.
Visual spectacle is limited to their wedding masque, in which the attendant spirits wear extravagant feathered headpieces, and to Ariel’s transformation, at the illusory feast where the treachery of Prospero’s usurpers is exposed, into a harpy with black wings and monstrous breasts. But in its economy and emotional nuance, this production quietly casts its spell. Sam Marlowe
★★★ The Guardian “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine,” says Prospero of Caliban, key words that occur towards the end of Andrew Hilton’s revival of Shakespeare’s late, but almost certainly not final play. There is no breaking of staves as a farewell to art here, and neither does Hilton take the now familiar route of presenting the piece as a parable of colonialism, or even a play about the crucial importance of taking social and political responsibility.
No, there is something far more intriguing going on here in this journey into Prospero’s mind, where the tricksy and airy Ariel and the “poisonous” earthbound Caliban, played by a single actor, are manifestations of the warring parts of Prospero himself. Prospero eventually reaches a point where he acknowledges the darkness inside himself.
Does this Jekyll-and-Hyde approach work? Well, it’s certainly a departure for Hilton, whose productions more often rely on superlative storytelling and verse-speaking rather than offering a distinctive take on the play; there are times when this interpretation doesn’t have the clarity and vividness of many previous productions, as if the energy is being expended elsewhere. It also makes great demands on Christopher Staines, most recently an excellent Puck in this theatre, who seems over-worked playing both Ariel and Caliban …
Still, there’s joy – most obviously in the relationship between Miranda and Benjamin Askew’s likable Ferdinand – and plenty of magic in the soundscape. If the evening never entirely convinces, it does offer a fresh approach to a well-worked play. Lyn Gardner
I had long resisted The Tempest before finally deciding to programme it in this season. Like many actors and directors I had puzzled as to where to locate its conflict – for where there is no conflict there is no drama. Doesn’t Prospero control the play, from prologue to epilogue, with an occult power that is apparently without limit or challenge? Aren’t all the other characters in the play mere pawns in his game of retribution and recovery?
At the same time I was intrigued as to whether – if a conflict was to be found – it would emerge from a political context or a psychological one. Political interpretations of The Tempest abound in recent stage history and academic debate. The play does undoubtedly draw on the early colonial experience, in Africa and the Americas. And it has been seen as both a Jacobean apology for colonisation (Caliban’s ‘native’ venality and stupidity justifying his subjection by the superior races of Europe) or, conversely – and more commonly – as Shakespeare’s trenchant criticism of it; Prospero’s theft of the island from its native owner illustrating European rapacity and the disastrous effect it had on the dignity and culture of indigenous peoples.
In the first scenario Caliban is the ‘devil, the born devil, on whose nature nurture can never stick’ (Prospero’s words); in the second he is the pathetic victim of a ruthless coloniser and slave-master. Both scenarios seem to me to smack of a kind of political hectoring foreign to Shakespeare’s art. Nor do they really fit the facts. As a coloniser, Prospero shows no interest in exploiting the island, only an overpowering interest in settling old scores and getting home to Milan. As for Caliban, he is not an indigenous islander, but an immigrant himself; and as a victim, meriting our compassion, he has that unusual qualification – he has attempted to rape a fifteen year old girl.
A play about vengeance, forgiveness and contrition (and very probably about sex and death as well) which centres on a man to whom Shakespeare awards private spirits and the power of wish-fulfilment, is much more likely to be looking inward to the dark and turbulent recesses of the mind, than outward to political debate. Granted, they are not mutually exclusive, but the choices we have made we believe reveal an inward journey, one that has the power to speak to the chaos within us all.
The Tempest is believed to be been written in 1610 or 1611 (when we know it was performed on Hallowmass Night, 1st November) and to have been Shakespeare’s last solo effort. The dating depends to some degree on the belief that its story was inspired by the wreck of a ship, the Sea Venture, in the Bermudas, on its way to the Virginia Colony in July of 1609. This supposition has been disputed, on the grounds that much earlier adventures and disasters could just have well have furnished Shakespeare with the same inspiration and background detail, but it still commands widespread support.
The play is certainly a late one, and shares themes and style with The Winter’s Tale, Cymbeline and Pericles,though it is some ways a much more experimental piece, strongly influenced by the in-vogue Court Masques – which were rich in poetry, song, dance and design, but slight in narrative and true drama.
One myth that has grown up around the The Tempest is that it is self-consciously a valedictory play – a farewell to Shakespeare’s own art – and that Prospero is to some degree a self-portrait. It may be the case that it was the last play that was truly his own; it may also be that its concerns were deeply and personally felt; but the idea that Shakespeare deliberately set out to make himself the centre-piece of an fanciful allegory about a retiring playwright is sentimental and far-fetched. The play is mysterious in many ways but that is one key that will not fit the lock.
Its stage history has been characterised by contrasting approaches to its two most unusual characters, Ariel and Caliban. In the nineteenth century Ariel was almost always played by a woman and conceived as a winged fairy; her balletic grace was paramount, the songs sometimes entrusted to another actress. In the modern theatre the spirit is more often seen as male.
But an ambivalence over the sex of Ariel is as nothing to the changing interpretations of Caliban. Now most frequently depicted as a plain man – very often as a black man – earlier productions attempted to realise the ‘monster’ of Trinculo’s perception, or the ‘deformity’ of Prospero’s: a half-man/half-fish, or a half-man/half-monkey, or even a green and purple-painted exotic – as offered by the Shakespeare critic and amateur actor G. Wilson Knight in a performance in Toronto in 1938. In 1974 Denis Quilley’s Caliban had a bisected make-up; Irving Wardle desribed ‘on one half the ugly scrofulous monster whom Prospero sees, on the other an image of the noble savage.’
Below we quote from some of Shakespeare’s sources – from undisputed ones in Ovid and Montaigne, and from the more speculatively credited account of the wreck of the Sea Venture.
OVID & PROSPERO’S MAGIC
In making a magician, or sorcerer, his central character, Shakespeare was treading on delicate ground. Marlowe had done it before him, but when his Faustus had enjoyed all the earthly delights for which he traded his eternal soul, he was dragged down into Hell. Prospero, in contrast, is to survive and to reassume his temporal power as part of the happy resolution to his anger and his exile.
It has been argued that Shakespeare downplays Prospero’s sorcery, showing it only as moral and benevolent ‘white magic’, and avoiding actual on-stage conjuration. This is a very questionable thesis; merely raising a storm, the prerogative of Jupiter or of the Judaeo-Christian God, could have been interpreted as blasphemous.
From this passage in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Shakespeare borrows directly from an invocation by the ancient Greek sorceress, Medea:
“Ye Charmes and Witchcrafts, and thou Earth which both with herbe and weed
Of mightie working furnishest the Wizardes at their neede:
Ye Ayres and windes: ye Elves of Hilles, of Brookes, of Woods alone,
Of standing Lakes, and of the Night approche ye everyone
Through helpe of whom (the crooked bankes much wondring at the thing)
I have compelled streames to run cleane backward to their spring.
By charms I make the calm Seas rough, and make the rough Seas plain,
And cover all the Skie with Clouds and chase them thence again.
By charms I raise and lay the winds, and burst the Vipers jaw.
And from the bowels of the Earth both stones and trees do draw.
Whole woods and Forests I remove. I make the Mountains shake,
And even the Earth itself to groan and fearfully to quake.
I call up dead men from their graves: and thee O lightsome Moon
I darken oft, though beaten brass abate thy peril soon.
Our Sorcery dims the Morning fair, and darks the Sun at Noon.
The flaming breath of firie Bulls ye quenched for my sake
And caused their unwieldy necks the bended yoke to take.
Among the Earthbred brothers you a mortal war did set
And brought asleep the Dragon fell whose eyes were never shet.
By means whereof deceiving him that had the Golden fleece
In charge to keep, you sent it thence by Jason into Greece.
Now have I need of herbes that can by vertue of their juice
To flowring prime of lustie youth old withred age reduce.
I am assurde ye will it grant. For not in vain have shone
These twincling stars, ne yet in vain this Chariot all alone
By drought of Dragons hither comes …”
MONTAIGNE & THE PEOPLES OF THE NEW WORLD
In the late 16th and early 17th century Europeans heard many reports of the people encountered in the Americas by adventurers and colonists; they varied from wonder at the perceived simplicity and generosity of native peoples, to accounts of a sub-human barbarism more useful to those who would justify why they should be displaced and enslaved.
In describing his idea for a Utopian commonwealth in the play, Gonzalo is borrowing directly from Michel de Montaigne’s essay Of Cannibals, translated into English in 1603 by John Florio. Montaigne’s response to these travellers’ tales was typically sceptical and provocative …
“Now I find (as far as I have been informed) there is nothing in that nation that is either barbarous or savage, unless men call that barbarism which is not common to them … They are even savage, as we call those fruits wild which nature of herself and of her ordinary progress hath produced; whereas indeed they are those which ourselves have altered by our artificial devices and diverted from their common order, we should rather term savage. In those are the true and most profitable virtues, and natural properties most lively and vigorous, which in these we have bastardized, applying them to the pleasure of our corrupted taste. And if, notwithstanding, in divers fruits of those countries that were never tilled, we shall find that in respect of ours they are most excellent and as delicate unto our taste, there is no reason art should gain the point of honour of our great and puissant mother Nature. We have so much by our inventions surcharged the beauties and riches of her works that we have altogether overchoked her. Yet wherever her purity shineth she makes our vain and frivolous exercises wonderfully ashamed.
All our endeavour or wit cannot so much as reach to represent the nest of the least birdlet, its contexture, beauty, profit, and use, no nor the web of a silly spider. “All things,” saith Plato, “are produced either by nature, by fortune, or by art: the greatest and fairest by one or other of the two first, the least and imperfect by the last”. Those nations seem, therefore, so barbarous unto me, because they have received very little fashion from human wit and are yet near their original naturality. The laws of nature do yet command them, which are but little bastardized by ours; and that with such purity as I am sometime grieved the knowledge of it came no sooner to light. I am sorry Lycurgus and Plato had it not: for what in those nations we see by experience doth exceed all the pictures wherewith licentious poesy hath proudly embellished the Golden Age … They could not imagine a genuity so pure and simple as we see it by experience, nor ever believe our society might be maintained with so little art and human combination. It is a nation, would I answer Plato, that hath no kind of traffic, no knowledge of letters, no intelligence of numbers, no name of magistrate nor of politic superiority, no use of service, of riches or of poverty, no contracts, no successions, no partitions, no occupation but idle, no respect of kindred but common, no apparel but natural, no manuring of lands, no use of wine, corn, or metal. The very words that import lying, falsehood, treason, dissimulations, covetousness, envy, detraction, and pardon, were never heard of amongst them. How dissonant would he find his imaginary commonwealth from this perfection! …”
As for their supposed killing and cooking of their enemies …
“I am not sorry we note the barbarous horror of such an action, but grieved that, prying so narrowly into their faults, we are so blinded in ours. I think there is more barbarism in eating men alive than to feed upon them being dead; to mangle by tortures and torments a body full of lively sense, to roast him in pieces, to make dogs and swine to gnaw and tear him in mammocks (as we have not only read but seen very lately, yea and in our own memory, not amongst ancient enemies but our neighbors and fellow-citizens; and, which is worse, under pretense of piety and religion), than to roast and eat him after he is dead.”
THE WRECK OF THE SEA VENTURE
An account by William Strachey, ‘The True Reportory of the Wrack’, 15th July 1610
The ‘Sea Venture’ (or ‘Sea-Adventure’) was one of a fleet of nine English ships bound for the Virginia colony in May 1609. Like King Alonso’s ship, it was separated from the fleet by a storm. Driven ashore in the Bermudas and locked fast between rocks, the ship, its passengers and crew survived and after almost a year arrived safely in Virginia. Only then did news of their miraculous escape reach England.
“… we were within seven or eight days at the most, by Captain Newport’s reckoning, of making Cape Henry upon the coast of Virginia: When on St. James his day, July 24, being Monday, the clouds gathering thick upon us, and the winds singing, and whistling most unusually, a dreadful storm and hideous began to blow from out the Northeast … For four and twenty hours the storm in a restless tumult, had blown so exceedingly, as we could not apprehend in our imaginations any possibility of greater violence, yet did we still find it, not only more terrible, but more constant, fury added to fury, and one storm urging a second more outrageous then the former … Our clamors drowned in the winds, and the winds in thunder. Prayers might well be in the heart and lips, but drowned in the outcries of the Officers: nothing heard that could give comfort, nothing seen that might encourage hope …
Our sails wound up lay without their use and six and sometimes eight men were not enough to hold the whipstaff in the steerage, and the tiller below in the Gunner room, by which may be imagined the strength of the storm: In which, the Sea swelled above the Clouds, and gave battle unto Heaven. It could not be said to rain, the waters like whole Rivers did flood in the air … Winds and Seas were as mad, as fury and rage could make them; for mine own part, I had been in some storms before, as well upon the coast of Barbary and Algere, in the Levant, and once more distressful in the Adriatic gulf, in a bottom of Candy…. Yet all that I had ever suffered gathered together, might not hold comparison with this: there was not a moment in which the sudden splitting, or instant over-setting of the Ship was not expected …
During all this time, the heavens looked so black upon us, that it was not possible the elevation of the Pole might be observed: nor a Star by night, not Sunbeam by day was to be seen. Only upon the Thursday night, Sir George Summers being upon the watch, had an apparition of a little round light, like a faint Star, trembling, and streaming along with a sparkling blaze, half the height upon the Main Mast, and shooting sometimes from Shroud to Shroud, attempting to settle as it were upon any of the four Shrouds; and for three or four hours together, or rather more, half the night it kept with us, running sometimes along the Mainyard to the very end, and then returning. At which, Sir George Summers called divers about him, and showed them the same, who observed it with much wonder, and carefulness: but upon a sudden, towards the morning watch, they lost the sight of it, and knew not what way it made. The superstitious Seamen make many constructions of this Sea-fire, which nevertheless is usual in storms: The Italians, and such, who lie open to the Adriatic and Tyrrene Sea, call it (a sacred Body) Corpo sancto: the Spaniards call it Saint Elmo, and have an authentic and miraculous Legend for it. Be it what it will … it did not light us any whit the more to our known way, who ran now (as a do hoodwinked men) at all adventures, sometimes North, and Northeast, then North and by West, and in an instant again varying two or three points, and sometimes half the compass. East and by South we steered away as much as we could to bear upright, which was no small carefulness nor pain to do, albeit we much unrigged our Ship, threw overboard much luggage, many a Trunk and Chest (in which I suffered no mean loss) and staved many a Butt of Beer, Hogsheads of Oil, Cider, Wine, and Vinegar, and heaved away all our Ordnance on the Starboard side, and had now purposed to have cut down the Main Mast, the more to lighten her, for we were much spent, and our men so weary, as their strengths together failed them, with their hearts, having travailed now from Tuesday till Friday morning, day and night, without either sleep or food …
And surely it is most true, there was not any hour (a matter of admiration) all these days, in which we freed not twelve hundred Barricos of water, the least whereof contained six gallons, and some eight, besides three deep Pumps continually going, two beneath at the Capstone, and the other above in the half Deck, and at each Pump four thousand strokes at the least in a watch; so as I may well say, every four hours, we quitted one hundred tons of water …
It being now Friday, the fourth morning, it wanted little, but that there had been a general determination, to have shut up hatches, and commending our sinful souls to God, committed the Ship to the mercy of the Sea: surely, that night we must have done it, and that night had we then perished: but see the goodness and sweet introduction of better hope, by our merciful God given unto us. Sir George Summers, when no man dreamed of such happiness, had discovered, and cried Land. Indeed the morning now three quarters spent, had won a little clearness from the days before, and it being better surveyed, the very trees were seen to move with the wind upon the shore side: whereupon our Governor commanded the Helm-man to bear up, the Boatswain sounding at the first, found it thirteen fathom, & when we stood a little in seven fathom; and presently heaving his lead the third time, had ground at four fathom, and by this, we had got her within a mile under the Southeast point of the land, where we had somewhat smooth water. But having no hope to save her by coming to an anchor in the same, we were enforced to run her ashore, as near the land as we could, and by the mercy of God unto us, making out our Boats, we had ere night brought all our men, women, and children, about the number of one hundred and fifty, safe into the Island.
We found it to be the dangerous and dreaded Island, or rather Islands of the Bermuda …”
OF MASQUES & HARPIES …
A Harpy, wings disclosed
There are passages in The Tempest that show Shakespeare experimenting with the Masque, a form fashionable in the Jacobean Court. Most famously, Ben Jonson (appointed Court poet in 1603) and the architect and scene-designer Inigo Jones collaborated on a series of lavish court entertainments made up poetry, song, dance and spectacular scenic effects, in which the aristocratic or even royal hosts would join professional performers to dance or even take central roles. James I’s Queen Consort, Anne of Denmark, frequently danced with her ladies in masques between 1603 and 1611, and Charles I performed in the masques in his court. In France Louis XIV danced in ballets at Versailles to music by Lully.
Jonson first introduced a grotesque element in 1609, perhaps reflected in Shakespeare’s decision to have Ariel appear in the form of a classical Harpy (a winged monster with the head and breasts of a woman) to torture Prospero’s enemies with a banquet that appears to be real but is in fact a chimera.
Jupiter & Juno by Annibale Carracci 1560-1609
But the appearance of the ancient Roman Goddesses, Iris, Ceres and Juno, that Prospero conjures to entertain Miranda and Ferdinand after their betrothal, is truly celebrational, a wedding-feast entertainment – though here only in anticipation of the consummation that must be deferred until ‘full and holy rites’ have been conducted in Naples.
Iris is the goddess of the rainbow and the messenger of the Gods – her rainbow arch being the bridge over which Juno steps from heaven to earth.
Ceres is Mother Earth, the protectress of agriculture. She had a daughter by Jupiter, Proserpine, who was stolen by Pluto and taken into the underworld, where she became Queen. Ceres bore a grudge against Venus and Cupid for inciting Pluto to the theft.
Juno is both wife and sister to Jupiter, and the Queen of Heaven. She was the special protectress of marriage and of woman. The peacock is dedicated to her.