The 52nd HK Arts Festival

Peter Brook's Final Masterpiece: Tempest Project

Text / Peter Brook

Editor's note:

The late theatre icon Peter Brook left the world with a rich heritage of wonderful works. His final theatre piece, Tempest Project, adapted from Shakespeare's play The Tempest, will be performed at the 52nd Hong Kong Arts Festival.  Brooks' wise words reflecting on the gradual development of Tempest Project provide an insight into his creative process and highlight the essence of the play. 

Note of Intent

The first time I approached The Tempest, a long time ago, in Stratford, the result was far from satisfactory. I felt that the play had slipped between my fingers.
To be able to express, in a convincing way, its supernatural world, was the main problem. I tried to use all the effects that the theatre offers, but I felt instinctively that I was going down the wrong track.
Then, later, in Paris in 1968, I decided to approach it again with actors coming from many different parts of the world. I found interesting to use some scenes from the play as a foundation and see how we could rediscover it together. The result was beyond all expectations.

In Elizabethan England, the connection to Nature had not yet been broken. Ancient beliefs were present; a sense of wonder was still there. 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. In the cultures that we call "traditional", images of Gods, magicians and witches come quite naturally.

To play a character who is not real, for a Western actor, requires real acrobatics. 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 in which 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. 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 undefinable. It is what he is looking for throughout the play. The young Prospero, plunged into his books, searching for the occult, was a prisoner of his dreams. On the island, we may think 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. It is not for a man to darken the midday sun, nor to bring the dead out of their graves.
At the beginning of the play, Prospero uses all his powers to create a tempest, one so powerful that he can bring the ship carrying his brother, who has stolen his dukedom, into his power. Revenge devours him and he has not yet mastered his own nature, his own tempest. And in the middle of the play, he unexpectedly faces the end of his exile. He had never foreseen that two drunks and a slave could put his own life in danger. He escapes with cunning and humour, but at the same time he understands that he has to quit magic, what he calls his art, and above all to forever renounce revenge.
Prospero opens himself, he realises that he cannot find his freedom alone, he cannot stay on his Island anymore, and he must free his slave Caliban and faithful spirit Ariel, forgive his brother, let his beloved daughter Miranda leave him and marry his nephew Ferdinand, and then he asks for his own freedom from whom?
From us all.

Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord—Tempest Project

Date: 22-24 Mar 2024

Venue: Theatre, Hong Kong City Hall

Details: https://www.hk.artsfestival.org/en/programme/Tempest_Project?