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Picture of the Month - April 2012

In 1993, director Sam Mendes envisaged 'The Tempest' as a play about theatre, where Prospero’s magic was portrayed specifically as theatre magic.

Helen Hargest
Tempest 1993
Trinculo and his puppets, Stephano and Caliban, in high spirits and singing of their illusory freedom (“Freedom, high-day, freedom!”), climbing back into skip.

The World Shakespeare Festival has launched in theatres around the UK and today we celebrate Shakespeare’s 448th Birthday and St George’s Day. The RSC’s 2012 Shakespeare Birthday performance was The Tempest, which was written during 1610-1611 and performed for the first time at James I’s court in November 1611.

The RSC staged a particularly successful and highly regarded production of The Tempest in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 1993. The director, Sam Mendes envisaged The Tempest as a play about theatre, where Prospero’s magic was portrayed specifically as theatre magic. The play opened with a bare boarded stage, in the centre of which stood a wicker basket, the type used for theatrical props and a clever device, used to great effect when Ariel, played by Simon Russell Beale, sprang from it and clapped his hands, bringing the production to life.

April’s Picture of the Month depicts the end of Act 2, scene 2, when Trinculo and his puppet, Stephano and Caliban, in high spirits and singing of their illusory freedom (“Freedom, high-day, freedom!”), climbed back into skip. The actors left the stage through a trap door below the basket which Ariel then pulled off stage, with distant voices seemingly coming from the basket. Mendes turned Trinculo, played superbly by David Bradley, into a northern comic, down on his luck. Influenced by Little Titch, the music hall comic in his dress, he wore a check suit with huge boots. His “prop” was a ventriloquist’s dummy, similarly dressed.  This skip was also the means by which the so-called “low-life” characters were finally transported off the stage.