The first time I approached “The Tempest”, a long time ago in Stratford, the result was far from satisfactory. I felt that the play slipped between my fingers. To be able to express, in a convincing way, its supernatural world was the difficulty. Today, Western actors have all the qualities necessary to explore in Shakespeare’s plays all that concerns anger, political violence, sexuality, introspection. But for them it is almost impossible to touch the invisible world. For the actor who has been raised in a world of ceremonies and rituals, the way that leads to the invisible is often direct and natural. “The Tempest” is an enigma. It is a fable where nothing can be taken literally, because, if we stay on the surface of the play, its inner quality escapes us. For the actors, as well as for the audience, it is a play that reveals itself by playing it. It’s like Music.
There is a word that chimes through the play – “Free”. As always in Shakespeare, the meaning is never pinned down, it’s always suggested like in an echo chamber. Each echo amplifies and nourishes its sound. Caliban wants his freedom. Ariel wants his freedom but it’s not the same freedom. For Prospero, freedom is indefinable. It is what he is looking for all through the play. The young Prospero, immersed in his books, searching for the occult, was a prisoner of his dreams. On the island we could think that he became free because he had acquired all the magical powers a man can acquire. But a magician plays with powers that do not belong to humanity. He opens himself, he realises that he cannot find his freedom alone, he cannot stay any more on his island, he must give it back to his slave Caliban to whom it belongs, he must give back his freedom to his faithful spirit Ariel, forgive his brother, let his beloved daughter Miranda leave him and marry his nephew Ferdinand, and he now asks for his own freedom from whom? From us all.
Peter Brook was born in London in 1925. Throughout his career, he distinguished himself in various genres: theatre, opera, cinema and writing. He directed his first play there in 1943. He then went on to direct over 70 productions in London, Paris and New York. His work with the Royal Shakespeare Company includes “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (1946), “Measure for Measure” (1950), “Titus Andronicus” (1955), “King Lear” (1962), “Marat/Sade” (1964), “US” (1966), “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (1970) and “Antony and Cleopatra” (1978).
In 1971, he founded with Micheline Rozan the International Centre for Theatre Research in Paris and, in 1974, opened its permanent base in the Bouffes du Nord Theatre. There, he directed “Timon of Athens”, “The Iks”, “Ubu aux Bouffes”, “Conference of the Birds”, “L’Os”, “The Cherry Orchard”, “The Mahabharata”, “Woza Albert!”, “The Tempest”, “The Man Who”, “Qui est là”, “Happy Days”, “Je suis un Phénomène”, “Le Costume”, “The Tragedy of Hamlet”, “Far Away”, “La Mort de Krishna”, “Ta Main dans la Mienne”, “The Grand Inquisitor”, “Tierno Bokar”, “Sizwe Banzi”, “Fragments”, “Warum Warum”, “Love is my Sin”, “Eleven and Twelve”, “Une Flûte Enchantée” (opera), “The Suit”, “The Valley of Astonishment” – many of these performed both in French and English.
Peter Brook’s autobiography, “Threads of Time”, was published in 1998 and joins other titles including “The Empty Space” (1968) – translated into over 15 languages, “The Shifting Point” (1987), “There are no secrets” (1993), “Evoking (and Forgetting) Shakespeare” (1999) and “The Quality of Mercy” (2014).
Marie-Hélène Estienne joined the Centre International de Créations Théâtrales (CICT) as PR officer for the creation of “Ubu aux Bouffes” in 1977. She then became Peter Brook’s assistant on “La Conférence des Oiseaux”, “La Tragédie de Carmen” and “The Mahabharata”, for which she co-wrote the scenario of the movie version. She collaborated on the staging of “The Tempest”, “Impressions de Pelléas”, “Woza Albert!” and “La Tragédie d’Hamlet” (2000). She co-authored “L’homme qui” from “Qui est là” and “Je suis un phénomène”, both performed at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord. She wrote the French adaptation of Can Themba’s play “Le Costume”, and “Sizwe Bansi est mort” by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona. In 2003, she wrote the French and English adaptations of “The Grand Inquisitor” for theatre, based on Dostoevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov”. She is the author of “Tierno Bokar” and of the English adaptation of “Eleven and Twelve” by Amadou Hampaté Ba in 2005 and 2009. With Peter Brook, she co-directed “Fragments”, five short pieces by Beckett, and again with Peter Brook and composer Franck Krawczyk, she freely adapted Mozart and Schikaneder’s “Die Zauberflöte” into “Une Flûte Enchantée”. She also shares in the creation of “The Suit” adapted by Can Themba, Mothobi Mutloatse and Barney Simon. You find her also on “The Valley of Astonishment”, “The Prisoner” and very recently on “Why” for which she worked on the text and dramaturgy with Peter Brook. They have just finished the free adaptation of “The Tempest” by Shakespeare – “Tempest Project” (2021).
Stage direction – Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne
Lighting – Philippe Vialatte
Songs – Harué Momoyama
Adapted by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne from Jean-Claude Carrière’s French version of “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare (Actes Sud-Papiers 2020). This show stems from a workshop conducted in February 2020 at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord.
Première – 25 June 2021, Printemps des comédiens/Montpellier
Language – English with Polish subtitles
Duration – 1h15
Production – Centre International de Créations Théâtrales/Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord Coproduction – Théâtre Gérard Philipe, centre dramatique national de Saint-Denis; Scène nationale Carré-Colonnes Bordeaux Métropole; Le Théâtre de Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines – Scène Nationale; Le Carreau – Scène nationale de Forbach et de l’Est mosellan; Teatro Stabile del Veneto; Cercle des partenaires des Bouffes du Nord