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Play-reading report: The Tempest , 14th Jan ’18, Edinburgh

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We ran a play-reading of The Tempest on Sunday 14th Jan, here in Edinburgh. We had some new readers, which is always a pleasure, and keeps everyone on their toes. The newbies are keen to do well, and the regulars are encouraged to try a bit harder. The result was a more dramatic play-reading.


Still, we can always do better. Someone suggested we stand when we have a speech to give, rather than sit in our comfortable armchairs. We’ve talked about this a few times, but never actually tried it – the armchairs are too comfortable! But that’s the point, so next time, I promise, we’ll stand up to speak – at any rate I will.


We were eight players in total. One of the new players thought he was coming to listen and got a shock when he landed the part of Prospero (over 600 lines). Still he responded well, and in no time was rattling the lines off. Eight is a really good number to read The Tempest (see The Tempest Cast list for 8). Everyone has at least one principal role to play – and a few have two; and there’s very little talking to yourself in different roles. It went really well, and the play came alive.


Of course, there have been better performances. My partner and I had watched The Globe’s production of The Tempest with Roger Allam as Prospero, and Colin Morgan as Ariel – the best production I have ever seen (see our Review of The Globe’s production of The Tempest).  We had been deeply moved by Prospero’s struggle to put aside his own anger and forgive his enemies to give his daughter the best start to marriage that he could. Jessie Buckley gave Miranda the feel of an unsocialised girl, brought up alone by her father on a desert island. A wonderful production!



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The Tempest was scudding along just fine, when all of a sudden, one of the new players, touched one of the index entries and found themselves somewhere where they shouldn’t be. That is disorienting, and caused a break in the play-reading. The index is a little problematic. It’s very useful to be able to get to any of the posts about the play, but awkward if you press an index entry whilst you’re play-reading. Even worse, it doesn’t appear if you’re reading the play on most smartphones.


I think we found a solution to this problem during the play-reading. Make the index a pop-up window, like the set-up gearwheel. This should do a number of things:


  • Give more space for the script on the screen (as no index on the RHS)
  • Allow smartphones to access the index easily (by pressing on the new pop-up window)
  • Make it harder to get lost by pressing on an index entry


So we’ve got a smart solution to the index problems and that’s good. The only problem is to implement it – and that will take a bit of time.


[Ed: we’ve implemented a solution to this problem for A Midsummer Night”s Dream, so if you like to use a smartphone to access these plays try out the following Midsummer Night’s Dream link. The script for the play should come up with a button above the text labelled ‘Index’. Click on the Index and it appears; select some other post about the play and it should appear, again with the button ‘Index’. You can explore as many of our posts about The Dream as you like. Please let us know what you think of this, in the comments box after this post. Thank you]



There was more thinking going on during the play-reading and I think it’s worth sharing. To a modern audience (at least to me), The Tempest comes across as quite dreamlike: Miranda falling asleep in A1S2; the king and his courtiers wandering the island, and again falling asleep; the harpy with the disappearing feast; the hunting dogs;  the lustful Caliban preying on the innocent girl; the handsome prince who comes to wake her from her dream; etc. etc.


For a Jacobean audience things would be a bit different. Much of the dreaming is magic.  Prospero is a magus who has gained occult powers through study, and can choose to use them for good or evil. For a modern audience (again at least for me) it reads instead as the story of a powerful, aging, man, getting ready to give up his power, and doing his best – even forgiving his biggest enemies – to give his daughter her best start as a married woman.


But still the play feels dream-like. Two of Shakespeare’s plays are focused on dreams: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Tempest. The Dream was written around 1594, early in Shakespeare’s career just after he joined  The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The Tempest, around 1611, just after Shakespeare left The King’s Men, and became a sharer in Blackfriars – at the end of his playing career.


What are the similarities and differences between these two plays?


In both plays, the conflicts which the play resolves are there before the play starts.


In The Dream, the conflict between Theseus and Hippolyta; the conflict between the lovers and the older generation; the conflict between Titania and Oberon over the Indian child. These conflicts are resolved, sometimes by magic; sometimes without the conflict resolution being shown in the play. The characters in the play are stock characters, and they show little sign of character development during the play. The play is wound up with conflict at the beginning of the play and unwinds to all our amusement during the play.


The Tempest is pretty similar. The main conflicts have been set up before the play starts and are told to the audience in A1S2, when Prospero tells his backstory; we learn about Ariel’s past, and Caliban’s relationship. Much use is made of magic to resolve most of this conflict: Caliban’s rebellion; the rebellion of Sebastian and Antonio; and Ariel is granted his freedom. The big difference is that not all the characters are stock characters. Much of the play shows the internal conflict of Prospero between destroying his enemies and forgiving them; and, as an aging man, resigning his power, returnng to Milan, “where /
Every third thought shall be my grave.” If you want to see a good example of this, watch The Globe’s production of The Tempest, with Roger Allam as Prospero (see our 5-* review of The Globe’s production of The Tempest).


From a player’s point of view, the importance of this is that many of the characters in Shakespeare’s plays, and perhaps particularly the early plays, are stock characters, and only in the main parts of more mature plays do we have to play developing characters. However, even for stock characters, we need to give them the appearance of real people – that’s what our audience expects.


If this Play-reading report stimulates you to explore The Tempest further, click on the Play Index button at the bottom of this post and select one of the many items from the index. Have fun exploring The Tempest.



Let’s Play!



Richard Forsyth
‘The Director’


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