Last night I saw yet another production of The Tempest (Okay it’s only the fourth version that I’ve seen but I am only 18) and it really rekindled the love that I have for Shakespeare’s final, lone play. Every show I have seen has done it completely differently, and made me see the play in new ways, or emphasise upon things I already thought of it. The play I saw last night, a production by Quantum Theatre, consisted of only 4 actors. I know. At first I was like, woah, that is not gonna work. But it did. Well, kind of. I think it worked if you knew the play. Which thankfully I did after studying it at A Level. But if you are a Shakey newbie or just hadn’t read/seen the play before, I think it makes it really tricky.
Of course, the actors had to all play more than one character. And with characters like the King of Naples and Prospero having similar costumes, people would have easily got confused. Especially with this show not having a programme to help with names. But something I did love was Ariel being played by three actors at the same time. Each one seemed to emphasise a different element of Ariel, one for his/her moodiness, one for happiness and energy, and one for calmness. Instead of Ariel being one of the elements that was highly regarded in Elizabethan times, he/she was all of them, other than that of fire. I also found it interesting how the actors playing both Ariel and Caliban were also playing the comedic characters and the characters of authority from the shipwreck. This, to me, took away the otherness, and beastliness of Ariel and Caliban, and made them seem more human, despite Ariel’s fragmentation in this production.
There was another production I saw a couple of years ago that had three actors play Ariel too. I wonder what it is that makes directors want to make this character fragmented?
But another effect of having fewer actors was that it made the play feel more Shakespearian, that is to say, it felt more like I was sitting in the early 1600s. It was an outdoor play, so the setting was basic and the music was minimal. Here is a photo.
So it felt like it was real old Shakespearian chaos in the constant costume changes and running about. But I think if I had never read the play I would have been lost, as not only did the actors talk fast, as if they were rushing, but the same actors playing different characters can be really confusing for an audience. I did note that the audience had definitely dwindled somewhat after the interval, and I think it must have been from the confusion the play may have caused.
But overall it was a good production. Not as good as some other productions I have seen, especially the Globe’s production, but the Globe’s is hard to beat.
Oh and something else, the wedding/celebratory scene of Act 4 Scene 1 was completely cut. But at least that isn’t as bad as turning the scene into a bumble bee scene (Yes, I saw one production in Norfolk where Ariel was dressed as a bumble bee). But that play did have acrobats for spirits, that was cool. But I will never get over the ridiculousness of bumble bee Ariel. Anything is better than that.