Musings on THE TEMPEST

I’ve just finished the longest of my Plays Through Practice series, on The Tempest. It grew and grew, partly because there is some very difficult language in parts of it, which needed explanation if would-be student actors or directors are to work with it, but mostly because I have particular affection for this play. I suppose I love the scope it gives for design and for imaginative interpretation, and I’ve tried to build many creative possibilities into the body of the resource, without being proscriptive. I never want any of my resources to say: this is how something should be done. All of them have built-in choices to explore, and encouragement to follow their own ideas.

Why do I love this play so much? Partly it is the language. Some of Shakespeare’s most gorgeous speeches are there. They speak to the dreamer in us, the inner poet, if you like. ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on’ after all and the play is full of musings on life: the brevity of it, its insubstantiality. It shows so triumphantly how it is never too late to change. We see Prospero, eaten up with anger and the desire for revenge, turning in a second – literally – into someone much more admirable, able to let go of all that base stuff which weighed him down and to forgive. And who is it who turns him? Ariel, who is pure spirit and not even human!

If Prospero just turned into a goody two shoes in his conversion the ending would cloy. But we see him having to struggle with his anger when he is faced with his treacherous brother. It is visibly hard for him to forgive. Yet he does, and it is a struggle. Nor has he lost his enjoyment of showing off, of teasing. Prospero at the end is entirely human, has not lost the traits which make up his character. He is not the god-like figure of forgiveness, endowed with magical super-powers which I have seen him played as.

The play is a hymn of delight to the beauties of nature too. Even Caliban is moved by the island he is heir to and accepts the magic that fills it as a normal thing. He hears music all around; the airs of the island generate their own music. Perhaps if we listen in a quiet place, surrounded by trees, we might hear that music too.

Music fills the play – another reason it is my favourite, since music – singing, playing it – I play a number of instruments – and listening to it – is one of my greatest passions. There is so much room for inventive music throughout the play. I have played the part of Ariel twice myself – long ago now! It was the part of my dreams, combining as it does acting, singing and playing of instruments. One of those times it was a kind piece of fate: I had been cast as Miranda, but the director wanted Miranda played nude to symbolise innocence. I didn’t want to do it! He ranged over other possibilities, each more hideous than the last: white leather, a flesh-coloured leotard with pubic hair stuck or painted on!! To cut a long story short – I played Ariel instead, and was exceedingly happy with that!

Am I pleased with the resource? I think it’s as full as it could be without being too over-whelming. It contains lots of background information, the sources and the like. But mainly it’s a working through of the text in as many ways as I can imagine – so as to inspire the imaginations of those studying it. Writing the Plays Through Practice resources is always an exercise in directing whatever play in as many different ways as I can conceive. It is truly an act of creativity, rather than an academic exercise. I hope that those using it will find it pleasurable to read, as well as helpful in the drama studio.