Sam Mendes production 1993
Ariel was the dominant force in director Sam Mendes' interpretation of the play. He initiated the storm by climbing out of the large theatrical straw skip at the rear of the stage and setting the hurricane lamp, hanging above him, wildly swinging. He spoke and moved slowly and deliberately, maintaining a cold hauteur in all his dealings. There was still an audible gasp from the audience when, in response to Prospero's affectionate words of farewell, he spat in his face. He then stalked away to the back wall of the set and opened a hitherto undetectable door through which he passed to freedom.
Alec McCowan's gentle, school-teacherly Prospero was threatened not only by this unyielding spirit but also by an unusually rebellious Miranda and a terrifyingly muscular and sharp-taloned Caliban.
Caliban's prison cell, from which he emerged for his first appearance, was the same theatrical skip on which Ariel had stood. He was forced back into it by Prospero at the end - there was to be no freedom for him. The production's theatrical self-consciousness was evident in the presentation of the masque. Here it was a delightful, life-sized pop-up theatre, with the goddesses played as stiff-limbed mannequins.
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Feature/interview with Alec McCowen:
Little big man: Stephen Gilbert talks to Alec McCowen, making up for lost time at the RSC in a new Tempest
Stephen Gilbert, The Independent, Thursday, 12 August 1993
Article about presenting Stephano and Trinculo in this production:
Stefano [sic] and Trinculo
Helen Hargest, Finding Shakespeare blog, 31 December 2010
Written by Rebecca Brown © RSC
Photo by Reg Wilson shows Prospero (Alec McCowan, left) and Ariel (Simon Russell Beale) in the RSC's 1993 production of The Tempest © RSC