I'm a duke, get me out of here

21st January 2005 at 00:00
Timothy Ramsden previews a 90-minute storm

The Tempest By William Shakespeare Southwark Playhouse, London

For Tom Wright, director of Southwark's 90-minute Tempest, Shakespeare's central character, Prospero, ruling his remote island by magic, is no puppet-master ensuring things move to a pre-determined end: "The play is Prospero's moral journey, a revenge tragedy where the protagonist decides, late on, he doesn't want to be in a revenge tragedy."

It is the non-human Ariel's last-act statement of how he would feel if he were human that determines Prospero against revenge. Until then, who knows what he might have intended? And his forgiveness finds no response from Antonio, the arch-conspirator who stands silent, showing neither gratitude nor remorse.

Nor does Prospero end on a note of resignation. He "takes responsibility for being ousted as he wasn't ruling (Milan) properly. In renouncing magic he is getting rid of the thing that had stopped him ruling effectively - a personal sacrifice, but he will put ruling above his personal curiosities."

Prospero needs to switch instantly between anger and being "very gentle, paternal to his daughter. He is a torn, divided figure."

The Tempest is full of contrasts and opposites. Caliban is the opposite to Ariel, yet also to Ferdinand as someone desiring Prospero's teenage daughter Miranda. The play's two murder plots run parallel, and both contain jokes: the clowning of Stephano and Trinculo's plot against Prospero is offset by the wit of the shipwrecked lords planning to kill Duke Alonso. Wright emphasises this point by cross-casting the two sets of conspirators.

Caliban is played as a feral child. His mother died when he was young and Prospero arrived on the island when he was about 13. By this age a feral child will never learn to speak or become socialised. So, until the play's end, Caliban's inarticulacy leaves him unable to understand that it is his behaviour which provokes Prospero to punish him.

"Despite a reference to him being male Ariel always plays female roles and in Shakespeare's theatre was played by a boy actor. Elizabethan audiences would have assumed a boy actor in female clothes was a woman." This influences the relation between Ariel and Prospero. Wright notes that, apart from some dry-cleaning, all Ariel's magic is concerned with creating illusions rather than substantial things.

Miranda does not have the social constraints of most Elizabethan heroines.

Marooned at three, "she has no real memory of a woman's appearance, speech or movement. Hence she has no compunction helping Ferdinand with his log-carrying and proposing marriage to him. Miranda slowly learns what it is like to be treated like a woman. Will it undermine her desire for Ferdinand?"

l January 25-February 12: matinees 10am February 1, 2, 8, 9; 2pm January 26, 27, February 1-3, 8-10; evenings 7.30pm January 25, 27-29, February 3-5, 7, 10-11. Tel: 020 7620 3494

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