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Set play

THE TEMPEST. HAMLET. Shakespeare's Globe, London

Exile is one of the themes of Lenka Udovicki's production of The Tempest with Vanessa Redgrave as Prospero. This director, who comes from Belgrade and experienced the trauma of civil war in the former Yugoslavia, describes the dislocation of beginning again in another place and imagines that it would have been part of Prospero's experience too, to be without "the co-ordinates, the references of normal life". Her island will be in "a gap in time", somewhere unspecific, to allow for a variety of cultures to meet there, although the inspiration for the music will be Balkan.

The play is, she says, about "establishing a certain harmony between art and nature". Caliban, representing repressed Nature, can respond to beauty, in both his surroundings and in the person of Miranda, but because he lacks the means to express his feelings adequately, he is in danger of destroying what he wishes to possess.

People are changed by their experience on the island and Prospero lays aside his magic to return to Milan without bitterness. As for the casting of Redgrave, Lenka Udovicki says that an artist always puts the whole of himself or herself into a part: "The fact that she is a woman is bound to influence the way she plays it. It is a wonderful opportunity."

Giles Block's production of Hamlet will be played in Elizabethan dress, 400 years after the play was first stage at the original Globe, with Mark Rylance in the title role.

The production is not intended to be an academic exercise but a clear, swift-paced telling of the story. Nevertheless, the appearance of the Ghost in summer sunshine and the decision to end, as in Elizabethan times, with a jig, will give this production an unusual twist.

Adultery is at the heart of Block's reading of the play. The Ghost refers to it and, in the closet scene, Hamlet seems to be suggesting that his mother had already fallen in love with Claudius before the murder. Block says that Hamlet's grief may be as much for the loss of the mother he has known as it is for the death of his father. "He is," says Block, "suicidally depressed even before he meets the Ghost and there are times when you fear for him, that he's out of control."

The confusion of illusion and reality is an important theme in the play, not just at obvious moments, such as the play-within-the-play. "Hamlet often uses theatrical imagery and is in a sense role-playing through great sweeps of the action."

For Giles Block, the most famous speech of all, "To be or not to be", is not about suicide but asks a much more important question about how we should live our lives - whether we should act and risk death or choose an easier way and survive.

Heather Neill

The Tempest is on from May 12. Hamlet joins the repertory on May 28. Tickets: 020 7401 9919

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