The Tempest. Presented by The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, England. 25 September - 19 October, 2002.
Annaliese Connolly
Sheffield Hallam University

Connolly, Annaliese. "
The Tempest. Presented by The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, England. 25 September - 19 October, 2002. " Early Modern Literary Studies 8.3 (January, 2003): 16.1-7 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/08-3/connorev.html>.

Directed by Michael Grandage. Designed by Christopher Oram. Lighting Design by Hartley T.A. Kemp. Music composed by Julian Philips and Movement by Scarlett Mackmin. With Christian Mortimer (Master of ship/Spirit), Peter Bygott (Boatswain), Robert East (Alonso), Richard Clifford (Antonio), John Nettleton (Gonzalo), David Mara (Sebastian), Chris Polick (Mariner/Spirit), Miranda (Claire Price), Derek Jacobi (Prospero), Daniel Evans (Ariel), Louis Hilyer (Caliban), Sam Callis (Ferdinand), Iain Robertson (Trinculo) and Richard Clothier (Stephano).

  1. Michael Grandage's production of The Tempest signalled the play's concern with magic and stagecraft in a stunning opening sequence. As the lights go down strobe lighting and terrific claps of thunder herald the storm. The stricken ship is presented simply but effectively using a rope ladder for the rigging, which hung from the ceiling above a trapdoor, which served as the ship's hatchway. A mariner emerges from the hatchway and climbs the rigging, while below the boatswain and ship's master are thrown about on deck. The noise of the storm suddenly gives way to an eerie silence and then a strange whistling, creating for the audience the acute sense of being out in an open space at the mercy of the weather. When the storm eventually eases the dark silky backdrop is lit from behind to reveal the silhouette of a cloaked Prospero holding his staff aloft, to signify that he is both physically and metaphorically behind the storm. As the lights go up the rigging falls through the trap door and the backdrop appears to be sucked inwards towards the centre of the stage. The cloth seems to be disappearing into Prospero's opened book (presumably into a trap beneath the stage) and as it does so Prospero snaps the book shut with his staff. This clever device begins the play's narrative, indicating that the storm has been conjured up by Prospero to bring the ship to the island.

  2. The Tempest is generally regarded as Shakespeare's final play and together with Prospero's apparent control of the play's plot, this has given rise to the reading that Prospero is Shakespeare, the playwright experimenting with his form. The production certainly develops this idea through its set design. The theme of metatheatricality is foregrounded through the use of a proscenium arch, which frames the Crucible's theatre-in-the-round. Prospero's cell is presented as a proscenium stage, which appears as though carved from driftwood and is suggestive of the "rotten carcass of a butt," which brought Prospero and Miranda to the island twelve years previously (I.ii.146). The roof of the stage has a series of holes in it revealing the rafters and spotlights. The stage is empty except for a pile of books and a wooden chair, from which Prospero observes and directs the play's events; even Caliban's "hard rock" where he is forced to live is a hole cut into the front of the stage, so that it seems Prospero is omniscient and all-controlling. Another self-conscious touch is the appearance in the second half of a row of shells along the front of the stage, acting as footlights for Prospero's masque in Act IV, scene 1. I particularly liked the way in which the first half concluded with Ferdinand being ordered to move logs by Prospero, which he continued to do throughout the interval, although it was clearly the same log. The lighting was used to good effect throughout, creating shadows and silhouettes of Prospero, particularly in the final scene as he conjures his spirits in order to renounce his "rough magic" and is enclosed within a golden circle of light on the stage floor.

  3. The costumes of Prospero and Miranda suggested pastoral retreat in their colours and fabrics, while the political intriguing of the Milanese and Neapolitan aristocrats who arrive on the island is indicated by their dark nineteenth century naval uniforms. Prospero's outfit of cream corduroys, soft suede shoes and khaki bodywarmer displays a striking similarity to those outfits worn by the character of Tom from the comedy show The Good Life, played by Richard Briars, who is also currently playing Prospero at Plymouth's Theatre Royal. In the case of both Jacobi's Prospero and Briar's Tom the emphasis with their clothes is on a visual rejection of the rat race. Miranda's cream dress consisted of a strapless bodice with fluted skirt, suggestive of both a South Sea Islander and a nymph, not yet tainted by civilisation.

  4. Louis Hilyer's Caliban as another of the island's inhabitants continues the theme of the pastoral, albeit showing the dark face of natural existence. He appeared with long dark hair and a beard, like a wild man or Robinson Crusoe, naked except for knee-length cream trousers. His upper body bore evidence of the scratches and stings he had received for his disobedience to Prospero and around his chest hung what appeared to be wire. The production, unlike those which have chosen to stress Caliban's deformity or animality, chose rather to emphasise his humanity. One of the strategies employed was to suggest the similarities between him and the other characters. This point was noticeably reinforced through the use of costume: Prospero's cloak, for example, was a patchwork of brown fur, feathers and other materials while Caliban similarly wore a brown cloak, which he hid beneath in Act II, scene ii to hide from Trinculo. This image seems to invite comparison between the two to challenge the way in which Caliban is demonised by Prospero, alerting the audience to traits they both share, most importantly the urge to control the island.

  5. Ariel, the island's airy spirit, is an ambiguous part, in that either a man or a woman can play it. To underline the ambiguity of this role Daniel Evans and his two attendants sported a rather camp look, with shaven heads, tight fitting cropped trousers and bare chests. This point is also made as they cross dress, doubling the parts of Ceres, Juno and Iris for Prospero's masque, in dresses and dance with a hint of the flamenco. Prospero, keen to display his power, utilises the stage to perform "some vanity of mine art" and the curtains are drawn across the proscenium stage and then part again to reveal the masquers (IV.i.41). Ariel is presented as a mature version of Puck, thoughtful and compassionate, and yet with more than just a vested interest in obeying Prospero's commands; he appears to take a genuine delight in assisting him. There are moments of playfulness between them, as they congratulate one another on their skill in shaping events; Ariel displays a desire to please and Prospero takes pleasure in sharing moments with his confidante.

  6. One of the many memorable scenes from the production was Act III, scene ii, in which the invisible Ariel observes the plans of Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano to murder Prospero. Ariel responds to Caliban's claims to have been cheated of the island by Prospero with the line "Thou liest," with Ariel mimicking the Scottish accent of Iain Robertson's Trinculo and thus causing much confusion between the three drunkards. Jacobi's Prospero displayed humour and a growing sense of both world-weariness and self-awareness. In his relationships with Ariel, Ferdinand and Caliban he appeared as a father figure, disciplining and educating his wayward sons, and in the final scene with Caliban there was evidence of recognition on Prospero's part and a positive resolution.

  7. Grandage, I felt, achieved coherence with the production through clever but unfussy set design as well as strong performances from both central characters and those in supporting roles, such as Iain Richardson's Trinculo and John Nettleton's Gonzalo. This was a production which amply deserved its sell-out success.

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2003-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).