2014 Company Profiles
Matthew has been Lighting Designer for several of SATTF's productions, including Two Gentlemen of Verona, Richard III, The Tempest and Richard II
The Tempest 2010
Ian Barritt as Prospero (Photo: Graham Burke)
As a true companion piece to A Midsummer Night's Dream in our 2010 'Art to Enchant' Season we offered our first production of The Tempest, following through various elements of design and casting, whilst locating its action more specifically in the Jacobean period. What the two plays have in common – fairy spirits, magic, and forms of wilderness and exile – are easy to detail. Where they differ in tone, focus and perspective is expressive of a great part of a lifetime between their compositions, towards the start and at the end of Shakespeare’s career.
The focus has shifted – from the playthings of the magician Oberon in the earlier play, to the magician himself, Prospero, in the later one. And from the chaotic reversals of late adolescent love in a midnight forest to the hard-digested contemplation of fatherhood and filial betrayal on a desert island.
I had long resisted The Tempest before finally deciding to programme it in this season. Like many actors and directors I had puzzled as to where to locate its conflict – for where there is no conflict there is no drama. Doesn’t Prospero control the play, from prologue to epilogue, with an occult power that is apparently without limit or challenge? Aren’t all the other characters in the play mere pawns in his game of retribution and recovery?
At the same time I was intrigued as to whether – if a conflict was to be found – it would emerge from a political context or a psychological one. Political interpretations of The Tempest abound in recent stage history and academic debate. The play does undoubtedly draw on the early colonial experience, in Africa and the Americas. And it has been seen as both a Jacobean apology for colonisation (Caliban’s ‘native’ venality and stupidity justifying his subjection by the superior races of Europe) or, conversely - and more commonly - as Shakespeare’s trenchant criticism of it; Prospero’s theft of the island from its native owner illustrating European rapacity and the disastrous effect it had on the dignity and culture of indigenous peoples.
In the first scenario Caliban is the ‘devil, the born devil, on whose nature nurture can never stick’ (Prospero’s words); in the second he is the pathetic victim of a ruthless coloniser and slave-master. Both scenarios seem to me to smack of a kind of political hectoring foreign to Shakespeare’s art. Nor do they really fit the facts. As a coloniser, Prospero shows no interest in exploiting the island, only an overpowering interest in settling old scores and getting home to Milan. As for Caliban, he is not an indigenous islander, but an immigrant himself; and as a victim, meriting our compassion, he has that unusual qualification – he has attempted to rape a fifteen year old girl.
A play about vengeance, forgiveness and contrition (and very probably about sex and death as well) which centres on a man to whom Shakespeare awards private spirits and the power of wish-fulfilment, is much more likely to be looking inward to the dark and turbulent recesses of the mind, than outward to political debate. Granted, they are not mutually exclusive, but the choices we have made we believe reveal an inward journey, one that has the power to speak to the chaos within us all. Andrew Hilton
Ship’s Master & Trinculo Felix Hayes
Boatswain David Plimmer
1st Mariner Nicholas Prasad
2nd Mariner Jerome Thompson
Alonso Jonathan Nibbs
Gonzalo John Nicholas
Sebastian Alan Coveney
Antonio Peter Clifford
Ferdinand Benjamin Askew
Adrian Jack Hardwick
Prospero Ian Barritt
Miranda Ffion Jolly
Ariel & Caliban Christopher Staines
Stephano Chris Donnelly
Director Andrew Hilton
Associate Director/Editor Dominic Power
Assistant Director Sophie Howard
Set & Costume Designer Harriet de Winton
Costume Supervisor Rosalind Marshall
Composer John Telfer
Sound Designer Dan Jones
Lighting Designer Matt Graham
Puppet Maker & Director Sara Easby
Production Manager Jo Cuthbert
Stage Manager Polly Meech
Deputy Stage Manager Eleanor Dixon
Assistant Stage Manager Rachel Isaacs
Costume Maintenance Sophie Borton
Costume Laundry Kim Winter
7th April 2010
* * *
Shakespeare’s enchanted isle is conjured, in Andrew Hilton’s production, with a simplicity that has become the stylistic hallmark of this miniature theatrical powerhouse. Four steel ladders at the corners are the sum total of the set; the storm and shipwreck that open the action are suggested with little more than sound, a few flashes of lightning, a swinging lantern and a length of taut rope.
Yet this is a staging sprinkled with magic; more homespun wise-man and fierce patriarch than necromancer with a boxful of flashy tricks, Ian Barritt’s Prospero nevertheless has a piercing gaze and a potent presence. He lays a hauntingly effective emphasis on the bittersweet melancholy of an ageing, wearied man relieved to be reaching the end of his life and laying aside his powers.
There’s a strong sense that this Prospero is a father figure not just to Ffion Jolly’s elfin, crop-haired Miranda, but to Ariel and Caliban too. In an innovation that proves dramatically rewarding, Hilton casts a single actor — Christopher Staines — as both the enslaved sprite and the twisted offspring of the witch Sycorax.
Staines transforms himself from one to the other simply by contorting his body and altering his voice from airy flute to gravelly growl, and there’s the neediness and resentment of children in their pleas and complaints to their tyrannical parent. “Do you love me, master? No?” Ariel implores wistfully. The two creatures are clearly flipsides of the same coin, and when Prospero finally frees them Staines stands upright and walks away, neither deformed wretch nor dancing faerie, but human and whole at last.
Hilton falters, though, with the washed-up, Elizabethan-dressed Italian courtiers and conspirators. The staging of these scenes is stilted and the acting loses its subtlety. Still, the drunken mayhem between Caliban, Felix Hayes’s big-babyish Trinculo and Chris Donnelly’s staggering, spitting, belching sot Stephano is riotous fun, and the flowering tenderness between Jolly’s Miranda and Benjamin Askew’s rather touchingly gawky Ferdinand, who gazes at her with dopey devotion, is touchingly handled.
Visual spectacle is limited to their wedding masque, in which the attendant spirits wear extravagant feathered headpieces, and to Ariel’s transformation, at the illusory feast where the treachery of Prospero’s usurpers is exposed, into a harpy with black wings and monstrous breasts. But in its economy and emotional nuance, this production quietly casts its spell. Sam Marlowe
2nd April 2010
* * *
"This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine," says Prospero of Caliban, key words that occur towards the end of Andrew Hilton’s revival of Shakespeare’s late, but almost certainly not final play. There is no breaking of staves as a farewell to art here, and neither does Hilton take the now familiar route of presenting the piece as a parable of colonialism, or even a play about the crucial importance of taking social and political responsibility.
No, there is something far more intriguing going on here in this journey into Prospero’s mind, where the tricksy and airy Ariel and the "poisonous" earthbound Caliban, played by a single actor, are manifestations of the warring parts of Prospero himself. Prospero eventually reaches a point where he acknowledges the darkness inside himself.
Does this Jekyll-and-Hyde approach work? Well, it’s certainly a departure for Hilton, whose productions more often rely on superlative storytelling and verse-speaking rather than offering a distinctive take on the play; there are times when this interpretation doesn’t have the clarity and vividness of many previous productions, as if the energy is being expended elsewhere. It also makes great demands on Christopher Staines, most recently an excellent Puck in this theatre, who seems over-worked playing both Ariel and Caliban ...
Still, there’s joy – most obviously in the relationship between Miranda and Benjamin Askew’s likable Ferdinand – and plenty of magic in the soundscape. If the evening never entirely convinces, it does offer a fresh approach to a well-worked play. Lyn Gardner