Preview: The Tempest

Gabbie Bird 6 May 2014

The Tempest – one of Shakespeare's last and possibly greatest plays – hits the ADC stage this week. Here's a TCS exclusive preview…

For those of you are unfamiliar, Prospero’s unchallenged reign over his island has continued for over a decade, but the washing up of a boatload of Italian noblemen onto its shores looks set to challenge that. With the help of his magical servant, Ariel, Prospero hopes to protect himself and his daughter Miranda from the aims of the new arrivals through a myriad of spells and tricks. 

What Prospero hasn’t allowed for, however, is the power of attraction. The young, alluring Ferdinand, part of the shipwrecked cohort, knows he wants to marry Miranda from the first time he lays eyes on her. The battle of love, magic and truth grows from peaceful beginnings into a storm of its own, raging through the island.

With a newly composed score and one of the most ambitious sets constructed at the ADC, directed by Emma Wilkinson, this production promises to capture the music, magic and romance that is abound in 'The Tempest' – Shakespeare’s complex and ethereal consideration of what it means to be both loved and betrayed, when you have never known anything else.

Central to rehearsals has been the focus on the text itself and third year English student (and huge Shakespeare fan) CHARLOTTE QUINNEY has been working with the cast as 'Verse Adviser' to get the most out of this rich literature. Last week I caught up with her and she explained the importance of her role throughout the creative process.“Most people will know that large chunks of most of Shakespeare’s texts are written in iambic pentameter. For anyone who doesn’t know, iambic pentameter is a line of 10 syllables with 5 stresses. And an iamb goes, ‘unstressed-stressed’ so 5 of them is ‘ba-dum-ba-dum-ba-dum-ba-dum-ba-dum’ and roughly that's the rhythm of most of Shakespeare’s verse. But obviously it’s not meant to sound like that on stage. Nor however is it meant to sound exactly like modern prose; the syntax is different, the structure is different, the language is more fruitful and more full of what I call ‘free money’. So we find very exciting verbs, very interesting images, lots of antithesis and so on… The language is in a structured format which needs to be unpicked because the first read of it will not give the reader all the information. And if its not read in the correct way, the first listen wont give all the information. My job has been to do some workshops with the actors to try and give them tools to ‘unpack’ the verse. The end result of which will hopefully be that the audience understands everything and feels excited by everything… The verse adviser basically brings the audience and the actors closer to the text.”

I wondered how the actors had been finding the process as some of them are relatively new to verse. “There are definitely some actors who have done a lot of verse before and there are some actors who have done none. But like in ‘Ratatouille’, when the non-existent chef says "anyone can cook’", I really believe that anyone can use verse…. When you've been taught the tools all you really need to do verse well is strength, enthusiasm and fluency in the language. This production is very rapid, very slick and very clear. If everyone plays by the rules of verse and prose what you have is something dramatic and exciting, not something stodgy and confined. So hopefully the audience will feel that.”

Quinney loves Shakespeare, yet is very aware of the bad experiences and bad reputation that some people hold.  “A lot of people will have experiences sitting in an audience and watching a Shakespeare play and not understanding. My belief is that it is the responsibility of the actor not the audience member. If the verse is used efficiently and properly then the audience should be able to fully understand and be really excited and feel what the verse is doing.” 

If you are someone who does have a problem with Shakespeare, Charlotte suggests that, like all things, you should come to this production with an open mind.  “There are times when you have to accept that there is a reason that someone is crazy famous. Shakespeare is literally the biggest name on any campus and I really hope that anyone who has a prejudice against him is willing, for one night, to let that prejudice go. They will hopefully, if they’re new, get a glimpse as to why [he is so celebrated]. I am continually astonished and amazed by Shakespeare… I’ve taken in alot; seen alot of  his plays and studied his work during my degree and I’m still continually astonished and surprised and amazed by how brilliant he is and how worthy he is of the fame he has. The text is accessible, it’s funny and it’s engaging and it’s sad – it is anything you’d ever want for a play but just extra juicy! If someone feels like they don’t like Shakespeare, or they think its stuffy, I feel  bad that they’ve seen productions that have made them feel that way. If they could leave those thoughts at the door, I think they’d be surprised."

Obviously there are some difficulties with working with a Jacobean text that the company have come across and had to deal with accordingly. “When you come across a word or a piece of vocabulary that is no longer in use you have one of three options; You can cut it, you can change it (that’s an option thats happening 3 or 4 times in this play) Or you can do ‘visual glossing’. In visual glossing you create a gesture, an image or even point to something that is the meaning of the word you are saying. For example ‘welkin’ which means sky. I’m not expecting anyone in the audience to know that, but if we simply point at the sky as we say  the word then it’s clear. The important thing about the text is specificity… It’s about punctuating the language. The audience won’t think about the word they’ll just see the gesture and read the gesture. It is true that there are some words that no modern audience member is going to understand. We expect a lot of our audience and so we should (they should expect a lot of us) but there are somethings  that are beyond that expectation, and those have, I hope, all been tempered, fixed, changed, cut or visually glossed.”

Charlotte’s excitement for the show is contagious and you can’t help but get excited for this show just by talking to her. “Basically, Shakespeare is the most exciting thing on earth. What’s amazing is that it is exciting on the page, but in the body of an actor it is thrilling. It’s absolutely thrilling. When an actor loves the text, the text will always love the actor back; if you work and work with a Shakespearean text, it becomes immediate and so full of images, feelings and physical sensations which is so exciting! That’s specific of Shakespeare. That’s not specific of iambic pentameter, that’s not specific to drama – it’s specific to Shakespeare. The language is like a living animal, and if you can just harness that and use it, it’s like you’re sharing a physical experience with the audience. There are moments in 'The Tempest' where the language is extraordinary; really extraordinary and its definitely Shakespeare, at the end of his career, playing with the verse”.

‘The Tempest’ is one of Shakespeare’s last plays and arguably one of his most playful as he experiments with the form he had become master of. “When you get to ‘The Tempest’ Shakespeare is definitely playing with what verse and prose means. You have the semi-illiterate barbaric Caliban speaking in beautiful verse, communicating with two drunks speaking in prose, yet he is subservient to them… It’s like Shakespeare is messing. He’s now so confident with what prose can do and what verse can do, how prose can sound like verse and how verse can sound like prose so there are moments in the text where I feel like he is just playing with you. He’s seeing what he can do.”

Despite the relative lack of plot, Charlotte offers an interesting point-of-view for considering ‘plotless’ plays. “If you’re watching a Disney movie, you’re very much engaged in the plot. I’m not trying to downplay that as I think that Disney movies are some of the finest films we have access to, but when you watch something like ‘Pulp Fiction’, what you're more interested in is the singular motivations and particular jokes etc.  The scenes in Pulp Fiction are totally stand alone so it almost doesn’t matter what happens either side as its really about admiring and enjoying each scene including the music, costume, and characters…That’s what ‘The Tempest’ is like. There are all these characters who seem very disparate, they are utterly disparate in their own different things but each one is fascinating and exciting”

On strict orders Quinney emphasises that “It's funny. There is more humour in this than people expect… I think the nature of the humour of Ferdinand is very funny; Ariel is up there and also very funny; Trincolo and Stefano are also funny however the register of the humour and the rhythms of the humour are also very different…I have seen a production of ‘The Tempest’ that was too funny, and by the time it got to the end we didn’t care- but this isn’t too funny. It’s really found a very interesting and youthful, confident and comfortable balance between profundity and humour- its not too much of one or the other. Emma has made some really great decisions some really interesting decisions. She has a very playful approach to the plot and the text which is what a director must have if they want to do justice to the text."

An important part of this production is the use of songs and music.With a newly composed 'beautiful score complimenting Shakespeare's verse, and a company that has clearly put in a lot of hard work, time and dedication, 'The Tempest' is a show you do not want to miss. Charlotte’s three words to sum up the show are “momentum, magic and humour” and if this interview was anything to go by you should definitely get down to the ADC this week and check it out for yourselves!


The Tempest is playing from Tuesday 6th – Saturday 10th May 3014 at the ADC Theatre at 7.45pm with a Saturday Matinee at 2.30pm

£14 Adult / £11 Students (Tue £12/£9)

Click here to book online now!