Heledd talks about her experience of playing Ariel in The Tempest and bringing together text, music, choreography and puppetry.

What was the attraction of the role for you? 

Well, I had worked on Shakespeare with Elizabeth Freestone, the director, before and love her approach. There is no slotting into a preconceived idea, the play comes together organically in rehearsal.

I knew the story but had never read it so my first approach was to look at the text for myself and discover as much as I could from what Ariel says and what others say about her. I could see that I would be busy throughout as I am involved with many different characters, either carrying out Prospero’s commands or observing their human behaviour. However, the majority of my language exchanges are with Prospero, the only character who actually sees me.

Heledd Gwynn as Ariel in The Tempest

What did you discover in rehearsal?

We started rehearsal with a full week of text reading all together, during which we were given space to ask as many questions as we liked. We then switched to working in groups, some on text, while others worked on sound or movement.

This exploration led to us questioning the action of the play from different characters’ points of view: we were looking at a play centred on power and began to ask who the puppeteer was and what control meant for the different characters. We had some interesting explorations concerning language and this would be an abiding interest only settled in the final week of rehearsal.

How did you approach the appearance of Ariel?

This was a creative boost for me in preparing the role. Ariel is elemental and associated with air, water, fire and earth in the text. In this production she is very much of the earth, not floaty or beautiful but identifying with nature, so we worked on this with the design team led by Tom Piper. There is a certain spikiness to her appearance.

What skills have you learnt through this performance?

How to play a new musical instrument! This is the futajara, a plastic flute based on a traditional Slovakian instrument that has a soft ethereal strangeness to it. It has only three vents and the tone varies according to how much strength you put into the blow on it. Plenty of practice was needed and the tolerance of neighbours!

I took a few lessons in circus skills in my native Pembrokeshire (Thank you Syrcas Byd Bychan!) to gain confidence for my final exit...No spoilers.

How far do you identify with Prospero?

Well obviously I am eternally grateful for her releasing me from tree imprisonment, but I carry out her commands to reclaim my ultimate freedom. To a certain degree I identify with her anger but ultimately I want her to show forgiveness. Not being human perhaps helps me to see the waste in pursuing revenge. I maybe have a wider perspective than she has as I observe the other characters and their journeys on the island.

What are your favourite moments in performance of the role?

The Harpy is fun being both visually and vocally powerful, made even more joyful by the team of spirits who are puppeteering her. But I have to say that the ending is a truly wonderful moment for me - I look forward to it every night.

Viv Graver

Viv Graver is a retired teacher, who taught Shakespeare for more than 30 years in the north of England. Her present interest is introducing Shakespeare into primary schools. Viv's blog is a series of interviews with RSC cast and creatives about their path to Shakespeare and how they first came to it, at school and elsewhere.

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