December 18, 2006

Chasing Dandelion Seeds

Chasing dandelion seeds.

How easy is it to become obsessed with you?
With your crayon-blonde hair,
your eyes, painted like my first waterproof jacket
that you tore, chasing dandelion seeds with the dog –
you danced higher than she,
and later, cried harder when you lost.

How easy is to become obsessed with you?
with your square fingernails,
so like our fathers,
I consider that if I bound your hands together,
we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

It is easy to become obsessed, to love you,
as I list all the things only I can know,
and all the ways you make me feel,
as I watch you change from fifteen to sixteen,
from my brother to the teenager,
who wears too much aftershave, and too many stereotypes.

As I love you, I cannot help but question you,
to doubt your smile and your laugh,
to complicate your childish utterances;
I cannot know you wholly,
as like the moon your face changes daily.

But you take my hand, and smile,
shielding me, ever protective,
and I squeeze your fingers,
before you run off, chasing the dandelion seeds
dancing across your laughing face.


Adonis

Adonis

A god of Asiatic origin who was inserted into the Greek mythlogy: his name is a Semitic word ‘Adon’, meaning ‘the Lord’, and he was worshipped in many places.

Gods fight unseen battles,
creating armour out of
nothing
– gold sparks and
flints of lost nature.

Gods love in ways I cannot picture,
as, like the lazy swan who reaches up
to the skies of dreams,
months out of date,
Gods reach out to touch
the things that the dreams are made for.

They are my dreams that fall
- irrepressibly – into sink with you.

Adonis fought to be born,
Struggling against the bark that formed his
Mother’s skin.

With a brittle ferocity, he clawed
Through the endless, unmoving membrane,
That he could not destroy.

Let me out, let me out,
He cried, the imprisoned bird,
Aware of the lock but having lost the key.

She came, her hands soft and melting
The wooden crust disintegrating
At the goddesses touch.

You came spilling through,
Crying into the world,
Spluttering at the heavy air.

But your mother could only watch,
And cry her leafy tears,
Which would collect, and rot, at her feet.


December 14, 2006

Naming

Alasdair – Naming You.

I.
I waited for you,
Standing beside the worktop,
Watching you grow beneath our mother’s hands,
Squirming and kicking,
Insistant and fretful.

But you could not escape,
You were tied by a bond that,
Even now, you cannot break.

I would shiver with a loneliness I couldn’t name,
And longed to see you as more than a part,
More than a nameless dream.

II.
Insert –

the missing piece into my wooden jigsaw,
left out on the kitchen table.

Insert –

and play forgetfully because
you will not fit.

Insert –

but pretend the space is still empty;
I cannot dream you are here.

II.
Name you Polly,
my name if I had only
existed twice.

Name you Hester –
a girl who does not like
damp rags across a steaming floor.

Name you Patrick,
cover your mouth,
stifled with mud pies.

Name you Matthew -
let me cry over you,
as, aged fifteen, you let the grass grow on you, a second skin.

Name you and smile,
for I cannot spell
you, and my thoughts as I stray
to my repeated – “a”.

IV.
I did not have the chance to worship you,
I cannot want the chance –

If it’s a boy, give it away.

I did not have the chance to take your hand,
and lead you through into the glaring white.

When will it be old enough to play with?

I did not have the chance to breathe
between your first smiles.

Play school.

I did not have a chance to watch you smile,
as I concentrated on seeing you.

V.
I did not give you away,
and I was too old to play with you,
and you got bored,
playing school.

But now I can watch you,
breathing through your cold,
pushing reddened hands through too-long hair,
smelling of overdone deodorant.

Now I can watch you,
see you.

For, now, I can name you.


November 29, 2006

The Intelligence of the Clumsy.

John Fowles:
The French Lieutenant’s Woman.
The intelligence of the clumsy.

John Fowles was born on the 31st March in 1926, in Essex. He studied at Edinburgh University before going to New College, Oxford, where he concentrated on getting a BA degree in French. In 1968 he moved to Lyme Regis in Dorset, which would become the setting for one of his most famous novels, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which he wrote in 1969. This novel was inspired by a novel by the French eighteenth century writer, Clare de Duras (1777 – 1828). Her novel was called Ourike and was written in 1823, when it was revolutionary, as it was seen as the first earnest attempt for an author to associate herself with a racial and national critique that she was not directly a part of. It was based in the era of the French revolution, and controversially dealt with issues of race, nationality, exile, inter-racial love and kinship. Fowles translated this novel after he had written The French Lieutenant’s Woman, in 1977, although he was undoubtedly well acquainted with it well before he published the translated version. In 1981, The French Lieutenant’s Woman was made into an award winning film, starring Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep. Fowles died on the 5th November in 2005.

The most interesting aspect of this startlingly well-written and absorbing book is the matter of the multiple endings. Indeed, it is this that has for many people, made the book so famous, especially after the release of the 1981 film in which they cleverly managed to incorporate both of the main endings.

He provides us, at the end of the book, with three possible outcomes for our hero and heroine – the Victorian gentleman, Charles, and the mysterious, passionate Sarah. First, Charles can marry his boring and conventional fiancée, Ernestina, but their marriage will be unhappy and unfulfilling, and in this ending, Fowles makes no reference to Sarah’s fate. The second ending, the “happy” ending, sees Charles giving in to his subdued passion and having sex with Sarah, and then returning home to break off his engagement, which sees him disgraced and disowned. Meanwhile, Sarah flees to London, and Charles spends years trying to find her – eventually he does, and she is living with a house of artists, with his child. We are left with the expectation that they can find reconciliation and build a life together. The final ending, the “sad” ending, finds their reunion unhappy, and Charles finally sees how Sarah has used and manipulated him. In this version she does not tell him of the child, and the reader knows that there can be no hope for them to be happy with each other.

Fowles broaches the problem of these multiple endings in chapter fifty-five (six chapters from the end), through his authorial intervention, as he claims he takes on a character in the story, a man watching Charles sleep on a train. He says “what the devil am I going to do with you? I have already thought of ending Charles’s career here and now; of leaving him for eternity on his way to London”. He appears to discuss with the reader the problems of having these different endings, the difficulty of appearing impartial as to which is the “favourite”, or the “true” ending, as in the format of a novel, one of them MUST come first. And indeed, he did have to make this decision- the “happy” ending comes first, and the novel ends with the “sad” alternative. In light of Fowles’ freely expressed concerns in chapter fifty-five therefore, the reader is forced to ask how the order in which they are presented effects the individual’s reading. In conventional literature, it could be considered odd that Fowles chooses to end the novel on an unhappy note, when an author who was seeking to please their readers would end on a “happy” ending, with Sarah and Charles reaching an understanding and looking forward, towards the future. However, it must be remembered that simply by the technique of the double endings, the novel is breaking with “conventional literature”, and therefore does not need to conform to expectations. It is important to consider that if Fowles had ended the novel on a hopeful note, would we as readers simply have dismissed the previous unhappy conclusion in preference for something more satisfying, idealistic, and, ultimately, fictional?

This device of the multiple endings also brings up the question of authorial intervention; is this an acceptable technique in literature, does it provoke thought and critique, or is it simply laziness on the part of the author, finding an escape from the completion – whether “satisfactory” or not – of their novel? Fowles is lucky in that he has the literary skill and the clever manipulation of language that enables him to pull this off successfully, as he manages to keep a certain sense of irony in his tone that eliminates the possibility of pretension. However, it is important to remember that this has been done by Fowles, and it has been successfully; to repeat the technique again would be mere clumsiness and would show an unacceptable level of ignorance and lack of originality, and ultimately, talent.

However, it must be questioned, as to whether it is merely the talent of the author that allows the double ending to be acceptable; does the story of The French Lieutenant’s Woman lend itself to a double ending? It is possible to answer in the affirmative, or at least to say that it is not a story that is adverse to the technique Fowles imposes upon it; Sarah’s constant aura of mystery, and Charles’ inability to think independently, mean that it is almost necessary for Fowles to step in and lay out the options, not only for the readers but for his characters themselves. It is almost as though he is saying to them, these are your possible paths, now you must decide which you will take. It is debatable as to whether they will be able to choose; perhaps despite Fowles’ best efforts, Charles will remain asleep on the train, and Sarah will remain lost in London, simply because they do not have the independent will to move forward. These observations lead automatically onto the question of whether this indecision is no more than an echo of the situation of the author, for he can decide for them. He is a novelist who has fallen in love with his characters and cannot bear to let them go, and places them in a limbo, refusing to allow them to live their lives if he cannot be their manipulative God.

This novel therefore raises interesting questions of the intentions of an author, and the idea that authorship is no more than a desperate, psychological need for control and power. In their novel, the author is able to create their own characters and situations and manipulate them to their own whims, making the entire facility of the imagination no more than a display of the individual victory of control and power.

However, it cannot be ignored that this is effected by the readers, for do not they have the ability to interpret the novel in their own individual way, a way that is outside of the control of the author? Therefore, in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, is Fowles acknowledging this weakness, or is he securing against it by detailing our possible interpretations of the ending for us – he is giving us both “happy” and “sad”. Is he therefore underestimating the intelligence and ability of independent thought of his readers? Or does he have an accurate understanding of the principle concerns of the majority of the reading public; “this is a happy story” versus “this is a sad story”.

It is important to remember when considering Fowles’ manipulation of his readers, that he is doing this throughout the novel, constantly mixing the nineteenth century stereotypes with a twentieth century perception, creating a world that would normally struggle to exist, even within the realms of fiction, as he is constantly creating twists and contradictions that again, survive only through his talent as a writer which makes the reader blind to the historical and contextual inconsistencies. Indeed, it can be argued that these even enhance the quality of the novel, as it enables a twentieth century readership to relate more closely to this novel, apparently set firmly in the nineteenth century.

Fowles’ use of endings in this novel, and the questions it raises have long been debated by critics, who endlessly attempt to find answers to the questions he raises. However, Fowles warns against this in his final sentences of the novel, where he reminds us of the fluxuating nature of the world, whether contemporary, past, real or fictionalised, and our understanding can never be truly complete, never truly resolved; “He [Charles] has at last found an atom of faith in himself; has already begun… to realise that life is not one riddle and one failure to guess it, is not to inhabit one face alone or to be given up after one loosing throw of the dice; bit it is to be, however inadequately, emptily, hopelessly, into the city’s iron heart, endured. And out again, into the unplumb’d, salt, estranging sea.”


November 10, 2006

Daniel.

That night she dreamt of blood flowing from his eyes and mouth, blue light flashing against his skin, and when she awoke she mistook the alarm for the bleep of the life-machine. But he was laid beside her, his skin papery and loose, though still whole and as soft as it had been when they had first met, years ago in the room of broken hearts at the community centre; here he was, the only difference that now she could imagine the nightmare, now she knew, that before the year ended, he would no longer be there in anything other than the ring that had been placed on her hand the day before, fifty years in the making.

There had, of course, been a time without him, a time when she had been happy, ignorant in the knowledge of his existence, but now she knew him, now she loved him and hated him and revolved around him. It was foolish to think she’d find a happiness again that did not involve him, that did not have her laughing with him, and taking his face between her hands and kissing him, silencing his protestations that they were too old. It was foolish to attempt to reach an understanding of what had happened, a seed planted so many years ago – five years before they met – that had only now decided to grow and flourish deep within him, and was slowly taking him away, away from her and their lives together. Perhaps it was the poison of his first marriage, perhaps it was the poison from hers, perhaps it was their punishment for their fifty years of living together, in and out of “marriage” – for they had decided years ago that that their only religion was love, and they would devote themselves to it, risking God’s unreasonable anger. But perhaps the risk had not paid off; perhaps they were now paying the awful price. But when he had asked her the day they’d heard the news, if she wished they’d done things differently, she’d pursed her lips and shook her head; no, I don’t think we’re that sort. We’d resent each other if we married.

Yet, despite that, yesterday they had spent ten minutes before lunch in the registry office, signing away their lives to each other. A last minute panic? Perhaps. He had told her that morning of a conversation he’d had with his son, and about his fear that she would be entitled to nothing after he’d gone, that his son would exact his revenge, his angry, bitter revenge. And so she had signed herself to him, and the irony did not escape her, that it was only now, when she knew he was leaving her, that she would, could, commit – until death do us part. He had, of course, been unable to get up from his wheelchair, so she too had sat, and as his hand trembled, so did hers. She watched him recite the pointless words, the loose skin dead and swaying, his hair, thinned almost to the point of non-existence; his hand, unable to grasp hers. She knew that when she spoke, her voice would be even quieter than his, for he is taking her breathe away with him.

She cannot cry. When they met, she had been told that he was “a twenty – five year old male, a university tutor in mathematics, recent divorcee with children, looking for someone who knows, and who can show me what I’m missing.” I need someone who can show me how to smile. I can’t smile, she’d told him through the tattooed tears, and he’d nodded, understanding; I need someone to show me how to cry. I’ve done everything, but I can’t cry. And so, they had taught each other, gently and gradually over their allotted fifty-year slot. They had held each other as they cried, and had kissed through smiles, unable to stop themselves. But now, she could not cry, and he could not smile. For what would they do with their tears and with smiles? Catalogue them as a reminder? A reminder that would be too painful to forget. No, the easiest thing was to ignore the lessons they’d learnt, to pretend they were two strangers, sharing a bed only from necessity.

Perhaps in the day, amidst the washing, ironing, cooking, gardening, visiting, that still needed to be done, she could do this. Perhaps she could pretend in the daylight hours, that she was a devoted wife, caring for her dying husband. Pretend that she was the nurse, and he the patient. For isn’t that what marriage had become? Isn’t that what this marriage should be? But at night, when he was feigning sleep, she could not force herself to become the caring wife, as the darkness illuminated her memories and she once again became the lover. For they did not have a marriage, they had a love affair; something passionate, something consuming, something that was about no one but the single entity that they had become. And yes, their love affair was played out on their bed, but it extended further than that, deeper, it extended to who was doing the washing up, who was going to Sainsbury’s, why couldn’t he ever manage to put the washing machine on the right cycle so that it didn’t shrink everything, and why was she never honest about how much money she spent every week? It extended to the mortgage, to the electricity bills, to the decorating and extensions, to the theatre tickets, and he had even tried to extend it to paying for his funeral.

- There’s enough there. Use the joint account to pay for everything.
- No. It’s your god – damned funeral, you can bloody well pay for it yourself.
- Janet –
- That account pays for us, Daniel. And there won’t be an us.
- But there’s a lot of money, you can’t just leave it there!
- Oh, can’t I? Well once you’ve left, I’ll be able to do what the hell I want with it, won’t I? I can leave it there to rot if I want to then, can’t I?

She had been repentant later, and had gone to him, kneeling by his chair. He had taken her head in his fragile hands, and had kissed her, and told her that only when she had stopped yelling at him, would he feel he had died. You’re dying. That was all she could say, for what else mattered, really. And he had kissed her again, and again, and again.

She looked at him now, his head nestled to the pillow, and although she knew he wasn’t asleep, she appreciated the gesture, allowing her to watch him and think, and remember, and attempt to imagine the future. It was not that she could not see how it would be like without him – she could – but what she could not bear, was that although she knew she would manage without him, she was not being given the choice. If this test, if that’s what it was, was meant to make her repentant, it did not, it made her sick and angry, and more and more in love with the thing that was slipping away from her. Like a selfish chid she was clinging to her most – loved toy, whose body she’d broken with too much love, and who was now being taken away from her, for he was no longer of any use.

Her fist clutched the pillow as she watched him.

I hate you Daniel.

He opened his eyes, looking directly into and through and within her, and she repeated herself.

I hate you Daniel. I hate you. I hate you. I hate you so much I can’t breathe. I hate you, I hate you more with each day. I hate you like I’ve hated nothing before. Daniel. Daniel. I hate you.

She knows that he knows, that he’s known from the moment they met, that he’s never questioned it, and that he will die knowing it without a single doubt.

I hate you. I hate you so much it hurts. I hate you.

He had cradled her in his arms the night they had first made love, and told her through his tears, that no matter what, no matter what life threw at them, he would never leave her, and that he loved her. He loved her so much he couldn’t breathe. He loved her so much it hurt.

Daniel.


October 31, 2006

Narcissus

I need comments, people – PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you! :)

Narcissus.

You can no longer see me;
the mirror told me
you’d gone
(emotionally broken
you were mute).

Now I am forgotten
as I flit
through your coloured-coded life.

You lost yourself;
trying to find me.
I was calling
(as I always did).

You sank yourself
into a reflection
you knew –
secret – scared.

I shake you
– have you back
– see as you notice
(me again)
stood so close that I know
that your eyes are soft to the touch
and that your irises melt
with my fingertips.

But your pupils are black holes,
lost within themselves
and they no longer dilate in the light.


October 28, 2006

Andrew Motion

Andrew Motion at “Warwick Words”, October 2006.

By his own admission, the job of the Poet Laureate essentially ceased many years ago, and now al that remains is a ceremonial position, with the loose responsibility to churn out the odd poem for “national” celebrations, such as the Queen’s birthday, for example. “You don’t have to actually do anything”, Tony Blair had told Motion when he was appointed, a sentiment quickly echoed by Her Majesty the Queen – “You have no obligations to do a thing.” A poet’s paradise then; you have potentially an entire lifetime, from the moment you are appointed, to do nothing but write poetry, and you get paid for it – plus, even better, you get a whole lot of publicity which very nicely pays for a few pleasant family holidays in the Bahamas. But Andrew Motion is an odd fellow – you see, he actually cares. He’s everything you don’t expect to him to be, he does far more than he needs to, and he does it not for the glory of the Queen (who he talks of with a kind of affectionate patience), and certainly not for the glory of himself. He does it all for the advancing of the modern public’s consciousness and their appreciation of poetry. You see, here we have a really unusual species in the world of celebrity; a genuinely nice man.

I felt that I couldn’t really not go t his reading at the Warwick Words Writing Festival – I mean he is the Poet Laureate, and I’d never heard him read before, and well, I just had to, hadn’t I? The theatre in which he was performing was nearly empty and I was easily the youngest person there by about sixty years (with the exception of Motion himself who is only fifty-two years old, and therefore a veritable youngster) – I had a feeling this didn’t bode well. Predictably therefore, I had a wonderful evening. Within the first ten minutes I can genuinely say I was head over heels for Motion, as he smiled shyly every time we applauded his readings, and in the end had to ask us to please stop, it was embarrassing, and what would he do if we didn’t clap for a poem? Every time someone asked him question, he’d thank them politely, and then go on to answer it extensively, but always careful not to stray too far from the point. I don’t think I’ll ever forget his reading of some poems about his childhood, and the memory of the horse that would one day cause an accident, that would kill his mother, only after ten years in a coma. The childhood affection for the animal, as well as the adult man’s anger at it, mixed in his voice as he read the simple poem (one he described apologetically as “going over the page”), creating a stillness in the room that made the poem all the more moving.

He also talked convincingly of his ambition to raise the public’s awareness of poetry through his position, and said modestly that he hoped that even though he might not achieve his aim, he might, he hoped, have set the wheels in motion for future Poet Laureates. And although I may be biased as an aspiring poet myself, it has to be noted that he has the charming, unconscious ability, to make anyone want to write; he is unpretentious both in his poetry and in himself, he makes the world of poetics accessible, but even more than that, he makes it attractive. He is not overtly clever about this, nor does he preach – he is simply honest, and I think anyone who has met him would say that that is more enough to make them believe in him and his mission for this outdated position. He is not the Queen’s poet; he is the public’s poet. On the proviso, he’d be quick to point out, that we want him.

On a side note, as I left, he thanked me quietly for coming, and hoped I had a nice weekend. If it wasn’t for the door handle I was clinging to, I swear I would have swooned.


October 27, 2006

My new love.

PENELOPE SHUTTLE

THE WORLD

When you’re so tired
you can’t bear the world -

that’s when you really begin to live,
when you’re closest to the world

How difficult it is to love it,
unlike the moon at first light

carrying her weight so readily
But the world

longs for all it will never have again,
that’s the world’s heavyweight nature,

all its mountains have fear,
all its chasms have sadness

In rainy weary prime of life
the world endures its broad lawful wings of light,

not beautiful, not happy,
so tired you can’t bear it, how the world is


October 24, 2006

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October 16, 2006

Julian Bleach as Ariel in the RSC's The Tempest

Some of the most interpretive and experimental films of Shakespeare’s plays have been made of, or using the inspiration of his “final” play, The Tempest. In Derek Jarmon’s The Tempest, the play occurs in Prospero’s dreams; Peter Greenway’s Prospero’s Books, has the entire play is voiced by John Gielgud as Prospero, the story told by his magical books and powers.

And yet, it is rare to find a production of it in the theatre that strays far from the Shakespeare text, and many recent ones, such as The Crucible’s 2002 production starring Derek Jacobi as Prospero and Daniel Evans as Ariel, have stuck to the basic formula of the setting and character portrayal, especially of Prospero and Ariel; Prospero is a strong, majestic wizard, powerful, fearful and yet generally in the right. Ariel is the flighty spirit, ambiguous perhaps in gender, but loyal, dutiful and compassionate; a mature Puck from Shakespeare’s earlier magical romance, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

With all these preconceptions, it is easy to be dulled into a sense of security when entering the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to see the new production of this well loved play, part of the Complete Works festival in Stratford this year. However, as with all the most predictable expectations, they are quickly, and joyfully, dashed to pieces from the opening scene of the play, and are no less than turned on their head when the “spirit” of Ariel first enters, played masterfully by Julian Bleach, who shamelessly steals the show from even Patrick Stewart’s incredibly human and almost vulnerable Prospero.

Bleach, one of the founders of the award winning company, Shockheaded Peter, a performance of clowns and insane beings, with surreal music and sequences that evoke David Lynch’s unforgettable style, has recently acted in Terry Gilliam’s film, “The Brother’s Grimm”, and appears to have a startling ability to portray figures of mystery and intrigue with a sensitive mix of comedy, ambiguity, emotion and horror, culminating his talents in his masterful interpretation of Shakespeare’s notoriously difficult to stage spirit, Ariel.

He looks and acts as the archetypal Nosferatu, the ultimate vampire, imprisoned forever in his human body, a prison that must be to him, a being of fire and air, distasteful and unbearably confining. Bleach portrays this wonderfully through his awkward stance, holding himself permanently at an angle, his shoulders hunched and his arms, almost glued to his sides. His walk, slow and protracted, often taking up to five minutes to cross the stage, spoke volumes of a “spirit” confined, a being unable to adjust to the human form, unsure of how to work it, and in constant discomfort because of his material form.

Beach’s floor length, starched black jacket sat on him like a priest’s cassock, covering him almost completely, yet with enough starkness that the audience was left with the same awkwardness as if he had been wandering the stage naked, a body with a feeble physical appearance, but every centimetre of it scarred by the “spirit of the isle” fighting to escape it’s prison. His upright chalk – dusted hair and large, black eyes only intensified the image of a being terrified by himself and unable to come to terms with the ultimate insult and distaste of being human.

However, arguably, Bleach’s appearance could be passed off as unusual for Ariel, but nothing more. Or at least, it could be, if it weren’t for his voice; his elevation of it to something that sounds permanently ethereal, and his slow pronunciation of the words, his deliberate delivery of his lines, not to mention his eerie, high pitched singing, adds a whole new dimension to both the audience’s perception of his character, and the contextual issues that arise due to this interpretation of the character. It adds crucially to the air of mystery around Ariel, and makes his sinister appearance all the more memorable – it could almost be said, haunting – as his voice delivering the centuries’ old lines remains ringing in the ears of the audience long after the performance has ended.

However, this presentation of Ariel has a deeper contextual meaning, as it likens Ariel to the character of Caliban, something foreign and native to the island, adding a dimension to his character that is usually ignored as belonging to Caliban only.

With his awkward movement, his slanted speech and otherworldly accent, he become as much a foreign being as Caliban, albeit as more as something mysterious than monstrous. He does however; share the same disfiguring bodily qualities, the same linguistic difficulties that apparently, according to Prospero and Miranda, make Caliban a “creature of darkness”, a monster, a native of the island, which they have colonised.

The sympathy that is inevitably evoked for Ariel in this production, despite his strange behaviour, suggests a much more modern attitude to colonialism, as it is impossible not to feel the irony of Prospero talking of he freed Ariel from the tree in which Sycorax imprisoned him (possibly another reason for his awkward movements and difficult posture), only to “imprison” him once more into this enforced slavery, and the restricting human body.

The constraint Ariel feels due to this is outlined for the audience clearly and movingly in Bleach’s delivery of the line in response to Prospero’s enquiries of the state of his brother and Alonso, King of Naples and his companions, when he says only “…if you beheld them your affections | would become tender… mine would sir, were I human” (Act 5, Sc. I). Following this speech is the longest pause for the entire production, as Prospero digests the hugeness of the slavery and imprisonment that he has inflicted on this, supposedly, free spirit, and by the end of the same scene, he has set him free.

There is tenderness in Prospero’s farewell to Ariel that leaves the audience teary-eyed and with a deeper understanding of the relationship between the pair that is usually portrayed in other productions.

Stewart’s delivery of the line, “I shall miss thee” is one of the most memorable pieces of theatre that has ever been performed, and the look given in return from Ariel as he moves slowly off the stage is one of such complete relief and gratitude, that as, for the first time Bleach’s shoulder’s relax, the audience can almost see the spirit flee, at last, it’s mortal constraints.

The stark landscape can be seen, along with the characterisations of both Ariel and Caliban, in this production, as projections of the darkness and bleakness that resides inside Prospero, especially inside this very human and venerable characterisation by Stewart, and this is emphasised by Bleach and John Light as Caliban, both as creatures so clearly “of the isle”, creatures imprisoned by Prospero, and to all intents and purposes beings “created” by Prospero himself into beings that suited his needs.

However, this setting, although refreshing due it’s difference to the majority of productions of The Tempest, is only really effective if the audience has a good understanding of the play as it is usual presented, therefore able to understand the irony and cynicism behind lines such as Gonzalo’s “How lush and lusty the grass looks! How green!” as well as Ariel’s references to his “speedy” and “flighty” movement, as he moves as slow as a snail across the stage.

The ultimate drama of this production is undeniably in the scene before the interval when Ariel emerges from a giant seal to deliver his judgement speech upon the Lords of Naples and Milan. Bleach is masterful in this piece of drama, delivering a chilling speech and a horrifying punishment, and the sheer skill and vision behind the scene leaves the audience speechless.

However, it cannot be wondered that this scene also catalyses the main problem with this production – that it is perhaps different simply for the sake of being different at times, for what other reason could there be for Ariel to appear from the stomach of a dead seal?

But, these are petty concerns when measured against the skill of the directorial vision, and in particular to the skill of performance seen in Julian Bleach’s Ariel, bringing to life this ambiguous character that would leave even Shakespeare himself baffled, amazed, and in complete awe of this wonderful actor’s genius.


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