- ‘Hell is empty and all the devils are here.’ Ferdinand, ‘The Tempest’, Shakespeare.
Years ago I went to the Edinburgh festival and saw Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ performed on trapeze, with the movement of the mariners all depicted in mid air above our heads. The island was on the stage below. Another production had the whole world of the royalty confined to a small ship that was floating in a globe-shaped fish bowl. The ship that carried Alonso, Gonzalo and the others was rocked and swayed in Propero’s hands as he tipped the fish bowl back and forth. These are just two ways of depicting a storm on stage, without actually getting the stage or the audience wet!
The Royal Shakespeare theatre has had its own innovative ways of showing the first scene of ‘The Tempest’ – the most memorable for me being a production with David Calder as Prospero back in 1997 where the whole back curtain of the stage was the sails and water on the ship and then later transformed into Propero’s cloak.
The Globe theatre, a few years later, took the traditional minimalist approach with all the water depicted through reactions, and Ariel manipulating the ship, as it was buffeted by the waves and ‘roarers’ of the storm. Welfare State did their own performance of ‘The Tempest’ on Snake Island at the Toronto festival, using the lake for a site specific performance
Other companies and productions have found innovative ways of actually using water as part of the set or production. The following use water in magical and mysterious ways that I have found most inspiring as a director and designer:
Other references to water in theatre can be linked to culture and religion. In Kathakali Dance theatre the curtain, known as the tirasilla, is meant to represent the sea, out of which each character on stage appears.
In Bahia, Brazil, candomble dances are done to many of the orishas, or gods, and the goddess of the sea, Iemanja (), is worshipped on New Year’s eve, when offerings are made to her, and there are rituals to Yemanja, an orisha of Bahia.