The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1502  Monday, 14 August 2000.

From:           David Lindley <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Sunday, 13 Aug 2000 12:35:04 GMT
Subject: 11.1480 Re: Performing 'The Tempest'
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1480 Re: Performing 'The Tempest'

It's nice to know somebody enjoyed the Redgrave Tempest - I saw it on
Friday, and found it much less than compelling; not only was Redgrave
decidedly underpowered (and why the Scottish accent???), I thought the
semi-comic treatment of the masque was desperately ill-judged, the music
(vaguely Eastern European) unhelpful and not in any way co-ordinated
with the rest of the production (whose overall style was, to put it
politely, eclectic).

But two things seemed to me worthy of note - first that the
Antonio-Sebastian exchanges in 2.1. were made to work (by no means usual
in production), as a genuinely amoral and threatening Antonio
desperately tried to get a slow-thinking Sebastian to see what he was
getting at.  This, curiously, did not diminish for me the sense of evil
in Antonio - but it did give some life to a scene that, in Mendes's 1993
RSC production, and even more in Noble's 1998 - as well as many other
performances I have seen - tends to pass by without energy at all.

Secondly, the way in which the Caliban-Stephano-Trinculo scenes were
played unremittingly for comedy, with deliberate by-play with the
'groundlings' (apparently something of a Globe trade-mark), raised some
serious questions about the way we now customarily see Caliban and his
oppression.  It's possible, at least, to see, through this performance,
how the scenes *might* have functioned in the 17th-century - and how,
indeed, they seem to have been played for most of the nineteenth and the
first part of the twentieth century.  The question, then, is whether
this performance was just a 'throw-back' to an unthinking acceptance of
Caliban as comic monster, and an abandonment of intelligent recognition
of the darkness at the heart of the play (there was little sense of this
at any point, anyway), or a deliberate attempt to repudiate
post-colonial and political interpretation.

(And, incidentally, this production, with a male Prospero played by a
female actor, and colour-blind casting elsewhere, raised what seems to
me a more generally interesting question about what happens to our
perceptions of this, or any other play when neither the colour nor
gender of the performers actually signify.  A similar problem was raised
in the Leeds Tempest where the Lords were played as men by women, and
where a shackled Ferdinand was played by a black actor - as also
happened in Noble's RSC performance.  If, at one level, we are meant to
ignore gender and colour, how then does this affect the resonances that,
in Jonathan Miller's productions, for example, were made possible by
casting both Ariel and Caliban as black, indigenous inhabitants of the

David Lindley

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