One of the most challenging sections of The Tempest is the pastoral 'play within a play' where Prospero conjures up the spirits of Iris, Ceres and Juno to amuse and amaze Ferdinand and Miranda.
"I must bestow upon the eyes of this young couple some vanity of mine Art"
The sequence is traditionally played as a masque or dumbshow and, in the original stage directions, employed the latest stage technology. Indeed, in the RSC production of The Tempest in the early 1990's the masque section took place in a life-size pop-up theatre within the main stage, complete with scallop footlights that popped up out of the stage, and a costume budget that would fund us for a whole year's worth of productions!
The section is not just difficult in terms of staging; the content itself is archaic and based on ancient folklore that modern audiences do not understand. Many productions cut this section out altogether, or at least trim it right down to a minimum.
We are currently working on an idea of how to stage this section which gives a flavour of what it is about (a gentle warning to the young Ferdinand and Miranda of the duties and demands of married life) but also demonstrates Prospero's magical abilities.
We have spent a couple of rehearsals now using the technique of human puppetry to bring this particular interlude to life. Prospero and Miranda join together in showing Ferdinand their 'party trick' of manipulating the supernatural beings of the island as if they were marionettes.
It has been fun and interesting to see what effects we can achieve, and it has also been a great way to build trust and complicity amongst the company.