A new voice;Set play

26th February 1999 at 00:00
THE TEMPEST. By William Shakespeare. Adapted by Nick Philippou and Steven Sater. Actors Touring Company.

It 's almost as if he (Shake-speare) had begun living on the other side and has had to depict a better world as man has conceived it in his dreams."

That's the Swedish dramatist August Strindberg on Shake-speare's final play, and a good starting point for director Nick Philippou's reconstruction of The Tempest. In this three-actor production, "the script is taken apart, reformatted. We are looking for the story of Prospero and have cut, re-arranged and re-allocated speeches."

The Tempest takes place on "a nowhere island", with hints at both the Caribbean and Mediterranean. "It contradicts itself all the time and is described as both dry and having fresh water, by Ariel as 'desolate' and Caliban as, 'with goodly burden bowing'."

It is a near actionless play. "There's not very far to go if you start with a character having such great power (as Prospero)". And Prospero's obedient daughter Miranda hardly fits the feisty trail of Shakespeare's women. Nor is any plot up to much: why would powerful Prospero be so concerned at the drunken conspiracy of Caliban and a ship's cook and steward? Philippou says the external action is a theatrical expression of the play's true subject.

"The setting is the psychic image of an island. There is a series of references to the mind, brain, imagination and thought." Here Prospero plays out the conflict between his higher reason and emotionally chaotic self, aspects of humanity represented in Greek mythology by Apollo and Dionysus respec-tively. All the other characters are extensions of Prospero's nature into these areas.

Lines gain new significance when they are re-allocated to Prospero. Caliban's "Thought is free" in Prospero's mouth sug-gests his thoughts are uncontrolled, and Alonso's "I wish my eyes would with them-selves shut up my thoughts" in Prospero's voice indicates a wish to stop the action he is dreaming.

Casting performance artist Rose English as Prospero aims to free the play from what Phil-ippou regards as the strangle-hold of preconceived ideas of Shakespeare. "Prospero tries to make a resolution through art, turning the bitterness of his life into something rich and strange. He achieves this at the cost of being separated from reality. Hence his despair at the end."

At: Bath, Stockton-on-Tees, Manchester, Cardiff, Gainsborough, Worcester, Paisley, Stirling, Brighton, Hemel Hempstead, Exeter, Banbury, Barnet; March 2-May 22. For details,tel: 0171 735 8311.

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