Actors Touring Company, The Tempest

Review in Issue 11-2 | Summer 1999

This is a radical re-interpretation of The Tempest. Prospero is played as a double-sexed and overarching magician by the statuesque Rose English. Miranda and Ferdinand become infantile mannequins, caught in a naive choreography of angular gesture and symbolic movement. Ariel and Caliban become, respectively, a pair of startled eyes and a twisted mouth screened through a suspended TV. The shipwrecked noblemen are crudely drawn faces on cardboard plaques suspended in jars on Prospero’s steel table (which becomes the sea, the island and the sky in this production). The clowns are gone altogether.

These changes certainly enable the Actors Touring Company to explore something of the thematic heart of Shakespeare’s text. Prospero, in control of everything that happens both in the story and on the stage, becomes absolutely central in this version, not least due to Rose English’s powerful and commanding stage presence. The bottled nobles are literally puppets in Prospero’s schemes. The whole production is like a dream, or a spell, or a retelling of an old, old story.

But at times the focus on concept means that the simple narrative of the play is lost. This problem is caused particularly by poorly delivered text; or rather, text which is so digitaly processed and distorted (each of the actors wears a radio microphone) that it becomes unintelligible. So while the soundscape, enhanced by Laurie Anderson’s charming underscoring, is powerful and evocative, the result is that one would really need to know the play in advance in order to fully engage with this dense production. Anyone who is interested in the possibility of radical adaptations or reimaginings of Shakespeare will find this fascinating, but as far as The Tempest goes, this version certainly doesn’t make for a good introduction.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. May 1999

This article in the magazine

Issue 11-2
p. 20