Director’s Note: Simon Usher

The Tempest is a unique work. There is nothing quite like it by Shakespeare or any writer. At times it feels like a medieval morality play; at others like mid-period Ibsen. Ophelia, Helena, Timon, Flavius, Hamlet, Marina; all make appearances in this play of time, mood and weather, Shakespeare giving us just the end of a story to reprise his central preoccupations of love, usurpation and resurrection for the final time.

Our great advantage in the English Theatre is, of course, being able to play the original text. Two of my favourite Shakespeare productions were Hamlets in translation, Swedish and Italian, by, respectively, Ingmar Bergman and the Colletivo Di Parma. We, though, must use the most powerful linguistic medium ever conceived: Shakespeare’s fluid human montage, conveyed through the pulse of his original verse and prose. What was second nature for actors four hundred years ago we have to re-learn, urgently, today.

But there are two Tempests, two Shakespeares. One is the product of Twenty First Century obsessions. This one is very dated. Shakespeare already knows everything which we think is our age’s prerogative. We just don’t know the plays well enough. Antonio’s view of conscience in The Tempest is a good place to begin.

Shakespeare’s Tempest has a startling modernity; an active thoroughness about humanity which cannot be reduced or diminished.

One privilege of being involved in a Shakespeare production is that you experience an extraordinary mind – dispersed through a giddying range of characters – at work, first hand. It is as good a reason for directing or acting as any…

We can only hope to open this experience as best we can to an audience.

Simon Usher


On Cannibals

From Michel de Montaigne, The Essays, Translated by John Florio

Shakespeare was a keen reader of Florio’s Montaigne. This extract from “On Cannibals” reappears in dramatic form in the musings of Gonzalo on an ideal society:

All our endeavours or wit cannot so much as reach to represent the nest of the least birdlet, its contexture, beauty, profit, and use, no, nor the web of a silly spider. ‘All things’, saith Plato, ‘are produced either by nature, by fortune, or by art. The greatest and fairest by one or other of the two first, the least and imperfect by the last.’

Those nations seem therefore so barbarous unto me because they have received very little fashion from human wit, and are yet near their original naturality. The laws of nature do yet command them, which are but little bastardized by ours. And that with such purity as I am sometimes grieved the knowledge of it came no sooner to light at what time there were men that better than we could have judge it. I am sorry Lycurgus and Plato had it not, for meseemeth that what in those nations we see by experience doth not only exceed all the pictures wherewith licentious poesy hath proudly embellished the golden age and all her quaint inventions to feign a happy condition of man, but also the conception and desire of philosophy. They could not imagine a society might be maintained with so little art and human combination. It is a nation, would I answer Plato, that hath no kind of traffic, no knowledge of letters, no intelligence of numbers, no name of magistrate nor of politic superiority, no use of service, of riches or poverty, no contracts, no successions, no dividences, no occupation but idle, no respect of kindred but common, no apparel but natural, no manuring of lands, no use of wine, corn or metal. The very words that import lying, falsehood, treason, dissimulation, covetousness, envy, detraction, and pardon were never heard of amongst them. How dissonant would he find his imaginary commonwealth from this perfection?