To hear the story of your life, which must
Take the ear strangely..."
Sixteen years of waiting. Three thousand miles to cross. One story, waiting to be told.
Corpus Playroom: Cambridge, July 2018
Sebastian River Performing Arts Centre: Florida, September 2018
Columbia College: South Carolina, September 2018
The Theatre @ Little Washington: Virginia,September 2018
Harrisburg Academy: Pennsylvania, September 2018
St. John Fisher College: New York, September 2018
Gannon University: Pennsylvania, September 2018
Shakespeare Academy Stratford: Connecticut, September 2018
The Prospect Playhouse: Grand Cayman, September 2018
ADC Theatre: Cambridge, October 2018
Avigail Tlalim: Prospero
Shimali de Silva: Miranda
Jack Parham: Ferdinand
Milo Callaghan: Ariel
Conor Dumbrell: Caliban
Louis Norris: Alonso
Cate Ash: Gonzalo
Rachel Kitts: Trinculo
Stanley Thomas: Stephano
Toby Waterworth: Antonio
Director: Anastasia Bruce-Jones
Designer: Jack Parham
Tour Manager / Producer: Charlotte Stephenson, Nick Harrison
Fight Director: Philip d'Orléans
Lighting Design: Rebecca Fry
Composer: Jago Thornton
Sound Design: Georgia Holmes
Stage Manager: Francesca Cosslett
Assistant Director / Movement: Jonathan Ben-Shaul
Publicity: Ed Bankes / Lewis Scott
Costume Design: Molly Greer Yarn
‘In one of the songs of Bulgaria we read that the mother of Stoïan endeavoured to dissuade that young shepherd from leading his flock through the Forest of the Samodives, who are a kind of Forest Demon, or at least from playing his flute when traversing it[…] Stoïan disobeyed, and instantly he saw a young man with disordered hair who sought a quarrel with him. The demon, after three days of battle, invoked his sisters, the tempests, who carried Stoïan over the tops of the trees, beat him, knocked him, tore him to pieces…’
Born in the South-West of England, on the Southern edge of Devonshire (where the mythology and eerie tales of Cornwall bleed up through the whisperings and stretches of moorland separating the two counties) and living for several years of my youth within a few miles of Stone Henge (a pagan landmark of ancient, monolithic stone), it is perhaps unsurprising that I understand The Tempest as a play centrally concerned with the art and history of storytelling itself. Other critics also make the link, for example W. Stacy Johnson describes how Shakespeare, writing The Tempest, ‘made use of two traditions of folklore and of the esoteric idea as understood by and absorbed into that lore; of witchcraft tales and of the tradition of natural or sympathetic magic.’ Yet Tempest has been linked to the myths of folklore since before I, Johnson, or even Shakespeare, charmed them together.
In the Bulgarian folk-song we see the cousins of the Classical ‘Furies’ retold as ‘tempests’: cruel spirits of a Forest infused with ancient magic. Indeed, the word ‘tempest’ itself contains the ghosts of words for time and trees: ‘tempus’ (the Latin word in which ‘tempest’ finds its origin) and ‘forest’ (which itself bears whisperings of time-words: ‘forward’, ‘forever’, ‘forthwith’). Forests themselves exist in our folkloric DNA as the symbol of age – and for good reason; as the climax community, they are the oldest possible natural manifestation that a landscape can have. No wonder folklore, an art-form of the memory and of recollection – of verbal looking back – imbues forests with the symbolism of the past and consistently imagines it having primordial power. Alexander Porteous describes the very earliest form of recognisable landscape our planet inhabited; the protean forests of the Archæen Age, which began about four billion years ago:
absolute silence would reign in the Cimmerian gloom; no song of bird would be heard, no chirp of insect, nor rustle of leaf, for none of these yet had being. Even during the tempests which must often have raged through these forests, no crash of falling trees would resound; the soft cellular tissue would sink noiselessly to earth.
The eeriness of a forest which has no sound – no birdsong, music, voices, only the sound of the tempest itself – stems from a link between sound and time. Sound – be it music, storytelling or simply ambient noise – gives time meaning. It is the only human sense which relies on time to function and thus, without sound, we have the eerie sense that time has stopped.
Shakespeare’s The Tempest, as its title suggests, is interested in the interplay of time and storytelling. In the fifth act, Prospero anxiously checks himself and his time-keeping:
PROSPERO: My charms crack not, my spirits obey, and time
Goes upright with his carriage. How’s the day?
ARIEL: On the sixth hour…
Prospero’s tricolon, ‘charms’, ‘spirits’ and ‘time’, are the three cornerstones of theatrical storytelling: ‘charms’ – the words Prospero, himself a theatre-maker, uses to enchant the world around him; ‘spirits’, the actors which shape-shift onstage like dreams; and ‘time’, without which there would be no story. Indeed, The Tempest is the only one of Shakespeare’s plays which obeys Aristotle’s unities; and nowhere is this more apparent than when Ariel gives Prospero the time, saying that it is ‘on the sixth hour’. Performing The Tempest at the Globe theatre in Shakespeare’s day, Ariel’s time would be almost exactly precise to the true time. This is because without electricity, performances of plays ran in the afternoons and, without watches and therefore only able to use daylight to tell the time, the discrepancies of late starting or slow running would largely go unnoticed by a contemporary audience. Thus, Prospero’s time is our time and as the light in the theatre fades on the performance, so too the same light fades on Prospero’s forest, and makes his action all the more urgent as time runs out.
Even beyond this moment, however, the stage is always a space where time converges on the present, as Gilles Deleuze explains:
It is in the present that time is deployed. To it belong both the past and the future: the past in so far as the preceding instants are retained in the contraction; the future because its expectation is anticipated in this same contraction.
Deleuze’s formulation of a present which contains both past and future is inherent to the structure of theatre – and to storytelling in its most basic, primal form. Its gesturing backwards to the past (like the recollections and remembered tales folklore) creates a nostalgia, for the fading of a time-gone-by, which Prospero, seeming to age throughout The Tempest as he relinquishes his ‘book’ and his revenge, embodies. Walter Benjamin describes this nostalgia in his aptly-named The Storyteller, writing
Of all those songs, the one I loved the most was a Christmas song that filled me, as only music can, with solace for a sorrow not yet experienced but only sensed now for the first time.
However, the present-time of a play, as Deleuze proves, also refers forward. Aristotle writes that ‘it is not the function of the poet [or playwright] to relate what has happened, but what may happen.’ Play, in Aristotle’s configuration, is prophecy. To quote Antonio, ‘what’s past is prologue.’ Thus, to perform a play is to perform an action which is both an end and a beginning; it is ‘prologue’ and yet it is a prologue which has happened before, these same words having been spoken in exactly this order for over four hundred years. The Tempest deals explicitly in the understanding of the theatre’s strange gesturing; moving forward in an effort to go back and moving back in an effort to go forward.
As a child, living in the ancient shadow of Stone Henge, I used to ask my mother to read to me. As soon as she finished I would demand, ‘Again, again,’ over and over until I fell asleep. Perhaps it is this instinct that folkloric storytelling returns to; the instinct to play over, to repeat, and thus return to our origins; to a prehistoric forest of perfect silence and the sense of time having stood still.
Alexander Porteous, The Forest in Folklore and Mythology(New York: Dover Publications, 2012).
W. Stacy Johnson, ‘Folklore Elements in The Tempest’ inMidwest Folklore(Indiana University Press), Vol. 1, No. 4 (Winter, 1951), pp. 223-228.
William Shakespeare, The Tempest, ed. Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen (London: RSC, 2008), V. 1. 2-4.
Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. by Paul Patton (London: The Athlone Press, 1997).
Walter Benjamin, The Storyteller, trans. Sam Dolbear, Esther Leslie, and Sebastian Truskolaski (London: Verso, 2016).
The Tempest, II. 1. 280.