Interview: The Tempest @ Nottingham New Theatre

Following The Tempest‘s fantastic reviews, Impact Arts spoke to the production’s director, Chris Trueman, and producer, Emma Kendall, about all things Shakespeare.

Can you tell us what the play is about?
Chris Trueman: The play is about Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, shipwrecking those who conspired against him onto a magical island in order to regain his throne. Using magic and cunning, Prospero makes her enemies regret their actions, and the Prince of Naples fall in love with her daughter Miranda. Ultimately, the play is about ego, power and how our identity is forged by our relationship with others.
Emma Kendall: The play is essentially the story of Prospero moving from anger to forgiveness, and all of the sub-plots tie together to make this character arc happen. However, all of the characters are also following their own stories; we’ve got conspiring lords, drunken butlers and a love story there too.

Why did you choose this play out of the Shakespeare canon?
Chris: We knew we wanted to choose a classical comedy and retell it in a visually striking way. All of Shakespeare’s works contain some elements of the commedia dell’arte tradition (something that fascinates me personally), but the influences in The Tempest are particularly striking. Prospero, as a self-aware protagonist, drawing comparisons between magic, the make-believe of theatre and fragility of human identity, allows for a production with meaning which is simultaneously interwoven with frivolity.
Emma: This play just has so many different elements which let us play around with magic, technical opportunities and theatrical conventions. Just the opening scene of a boat being shipwrecked was a challenge within itself! We also felt this was a play which would allow us to showcase a big cast in hugely different roles. We cast almost all the roles as gender-neutral, and having a female Prospero has brought a maternal and nurturing side to this amazing part which has really brought parts of the text to life.

What is your favourite part of the play?
Chris: Prospero’s asides that run throughout. They function as narration, drawing the audience in as she shares in their dramatic irony of watching the plot unfurl. They simultaneously also serves as markers of the development of a character who is split between fascination with the spiritual and the trappings of the lust for power. It is also an incredibly short and economical script, which is always nice.
Emma: In general, I’ve loved all the ensemble work that Chris has worked on with the actors. This is partially using the actors to multi-role as the spirits of the island, where there are some great physical sequences. It also highlights how well all of the actors work together, especially in the bigger scenes, where all the relationships really shine through.

As a director, your productions are always innovative and quirky. How have you put your own stamp on this Shakespeare classic?
Chris: We knew going into the rehearsal process that we had an excellent tech team. We wanted our set to be a dream-like minimalist representation of the island, that would allows the lighting talents of Sam Osborne to flourish. Music is a key part of The Tempest, and so we wanted to underscore the entire production in order to add to the dream-like, surreal, experience. Joanne Blunt’s superb skills of mixing tracks with various elemental sound effects creates a magical soundscape. And, of course, our technical director, David Taylor, makes sure all this actually happens on the day. As well as the technical elements, enhancing the magic in an overt way has been a key aspect of our creative process. All of those who are shipwrecked double up as the spirits of the island. We are using white face paint with caricature make-up to function in a similar way to commedia masks. So yeah, that might be fun.

What have been your biggest challenges in putting on The Tempest?
Chris: Initially, I was quite concerned about doing such a well known play that people coming have expectations of. To get over this, we stopped thinking about  the play in terms of high and mighty Shakespeare, and instead just as a great play that a group of very talented actors wanted to put on.
Emma: We knew we had quite a strong design aesthetic – white, with splashes of character or colour – so from a producing point of view it was probably trying to achieve the classy look we were going for, but keep it cheap. We’ve re-used some gorgeous white fabric from our previous production of The Thrill of Love which has given the set a lovely texture, and we’re so happy with how the costumes have turned out.

It’s the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death this week. What do you think he would say about your production now, if he could watch it?
Chris: He’d probably say “ooooh errr, what’s all this then?” I hope he’d like it!
Emma: I think we’ve made it really accessible – we’ve worked hard on making the entire story easy to understand, even for people who wouldn’t usually see Shakespeare, and I hope he’d like that.

Are you feeling any pressure in putting on such a well-known play?
Emma: Definitely, but the feedback we’ve had so far has been really positive, so hopefully we’re doing an alright job.

Sum up the production in three words!
Chris: Hip, Hop and Happening!
Emma: Unique, fun and beautiful.

Amy Wilcockson

‘The Tempest’ is running at the Nottingham New Theatre until Saturday 23rd April. For more information see here.

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