Exploration and discovery: interpreting The Tempest

August 2022

Last week NQ spoke with director Danielle Irvine about Perchance Theatre’s production of The Tempest. This week, actor Jodee Richardson, who plays Prospero, joins the conversation.

How do you approach such an archetypal character?

Jodee. One line at a time. Sure, you check on some of the more iconic performances available for viewing, but very quickly you again understand that this role will be what organically emerges through the exploration of rehearsal. Danielle very smartly decided to make Prospero much more active off the top. His memories of the wrongs committed against Miranda and himself are vivid and his revenge desires are overwhelming. The usual approach is more of an older gentler wizard but Danielle wanted all the dials turned up – a sorcerer who walks away at the height of his power. Much like how the movie 28 Days Later turned slow-moving zombies into rage driven speeding predators. Which reinvented the genre. So with that direction off the top, we push forward so that the ‘good’ has to work overtime to temper his ‘evil’. The role has so much baggage, good and bad, but having such fantastic direction and cast, the role gets shaped into what it ‘needs’ to be for the production. Over the last few weeks of performance, to be honest, I have hopped back a couple of times and checked the great actors’ renditions of the famous speeches, but at the end of the day, if we understand the text and journey, then what is … is the only is, ain’t it?

I’ve been reading about director Peter Brook [1925-2022] where he talks about the importance of ‘not reaching a conclusion’.

 Danielle. I did a workshop with Peter Brook! A masterclass for directors all across Canada. What I learned was to stay open and stay curious. It wasn’t about deciding what was in a text, but about leaving space for the actors to make their own discoveries. Don’t rush. What will come is what is true to that moment.

What decisions did you make about the journey Prospero is on? 

Jodee. The path we tread is that love and vengeance cannot exist at the same time. His dear daughter’s love and the grotesque baseness of his enemies force him to admit that benevolence is the ‘rarer action’. The challenge is to arc it well. Still working on that.

And what is left to interpretation?

Jodee. I enjoy the more heady interpretations the Tempest scholars get on with – the island is his mind … etc. But we wanted this production to unfold in front of the audience. We have put so many practical ideas in the project for that sense of magic, music, and movement to beguile and transport the attendants in the moment. We have had younger folks come up and rave that it was ‘alive’ for them. That’s the goal and the glory.

Is The Tempest particularly apt for a NL audience, because it’s set on an island?

 Danielle. I think absolutely. It’s an island, it’s a rough island, it’s full of magical things. The idea that people have washed up there and found a life, Caliban and his mother, and they leave Ariel and the spirits and Caliban there to live their lives, to be who they are. Which is interesting in the conversation around colonialism. Shakespeare is clearly not a proponent of colonialism, he wants people to be who they are. And makes social commentar6y on it in the play. The bad guys in the play talk about how they’re going to take Caliban back and show him off and make money off him. Which was happening in Shakespeare’s time. Shakespeare wrote such layered stories, I often talk about how there’s a DNA strand of stories, twining around stories that twine around stories, that you can pull on strands and tell the story differently every time. I’ve done Henry V at different points in my life, Twelfth Night, Midsummer Night’s Dream, I always try to approach these stories from where I am in my life, something I need to explore myself, and then I embark on it.

 Jodee. We’re really proud of the creativity everyone has ‘stodged’ this production with and seriously, people shouldn’t miss this special show.

Perchance Theatre’s The Tempest continues to the end of this month.

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