There are always new jewels to be mined with a play like The Tempest. By adding moments of tension or acquiescence, it’s perfectly possible to put a new slant on a relationship that was established 400 years ago on nothing more than parchment.
The cast have had some very interesting discussions about Caliban and colonialism to help us hone in on what exactly it is we’re trying to say. Gregory Doran has made it very clear that Caliban’s relationship with Prospero can end however our company of actors see fit. We have had lengthy group chats where everyone feels free to speak their mind without fear of judgement. As Greg so excellently and aptly said during a rehearsal a couple of weeks ago: “Directing is tyranny masquerading as democracy.”
Rehearsals have flown by, and we have made several bold decisions from both character and plotline perspectives. I had a very exciting moment where I suddenly clicked with Trinculo. Having paddled in the shallows for a few weeks, I was suddenly forced into the deep end after we decided that he is – much to his disappointment – a simple jester, very possibly working as a children's entertainer. This may well not be something that the audience would ever pick up on, but it helps fuel my performance. It gives me something to work with. It’s a lovely moment when the lightbulb switches on and you suddenly make a tonne of discoveries.
Our company is an extremely tight knit community, and it's great to watch everyone around you build a relationship with their character. I've made a lot of friends throughout The Tempest rehearsals, and I'm also extremely happy to be working with some old faces once again. Oscar Pearce and I have known each other for 14 years, and shared great experiences doing the Spanish Golden Age plays together alongside Joseph Millson – who is, if I may say so myself, eating the stage alive with his nightly knockout performances in The Rover in the Swan.
The play has been on for a few weeks now, and even as far back as the first full rehearsal (without technical support, just language and a few props), it was fabulous. It was clear from those rehearsals that even without lights and performance capture technology we still have a beautifully crafted story to offer. Greg cried during the runs – both of them! Pretty sure it was tears of joy but… you never know.
When we first moved the rehearsals into the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST) we had an extremely important period of technical rehearsals. As you can imagine this tech was very lengthy – around eight days in total. It was an amazing process as we saw the stunning stage design in all its glory. We were all blown away when they started to add Ariel’s avatar. Floating, flying and morphing in and around the space; it was magic. There were regular bursts of applause from us when set pieces came together with full lighting, music and performance. It is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been part of.
And then, before we knew it, it was time for the first dress rehearsal. In typical RSC fashion, the dress was attended by people from various departments. This included a lot of educational practitioners who were mostly actors who will be leading workshops on The Tempest based on our production. There were probably about 50 people there in total.
The dress run had been technically sound, though we were still missing a couple of magical features which would only be added on when they were totally, absolutely, undeniably ready. But from my point of view, the dress went awfully. I was suddenly overtaken by incredible nerves. I struggled to find any sense of play whatsoever. I felt like a rabbit in the headlights. My best efforts were met by an abject silence as I clumsily worked from moment to moment. Not good. Especially when your character is supposed to provide comic relief… worst of all, later that night was the first public preview performance.
I remember coming off stage feeling very low. What was going to happen later that night, with over 1,000 people paying to watch? But a comforting phrase kept going round and round in my head: “bad dress, great first night”. Never had something been so true. The public preview went down an absolute treat. Suddenly, we were supported by a wave of energy from the crowd. It gave us the boost we needed to start playing. And I mean really playing. Playing, discovering and shaping what we had discovered so far. Did I provide comic relief? I’m not sure, but I – the comic – was very, very relieved.