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A Singer’s Notes 137: The Tempest, at Shakespeare and Company

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Nigel Gore as Prospero. Photo Stratton McCrady

Nigel Gore as Prospero. Photo Stratton McCrady

On Wednesday evening, Nigel Gore’s Prospero gave me The Tempest I have been waiting for. First, and not least, his performance was consistent. I have long waited for a performance that showed the profound loneliness of this character. A temperament carefully hidden makes it clear. There was a beautiful moment after Prospero put his daughter Miranda to sleep. He blew to her sleeping form, a kiss. Direct speech between the two of them was always tense. This in spite of the beautiful image he offered of the infant Miranda, calling her a cherubim who sustained him in their long sea journey. Mr. Gore convinced me, with his virulent speech, that Prospero cannot stop knowing how much he loved his daughter, and how impossible it is to show her. The Tempest is a father-daughter play, and Mr. Gore’s performance showed me a Prospero whose roughness was a way to break through. Roughness hurts the giver and the receiver. The old man knew he must needs give her up. Further, he must do it soon. The struggle to hold on and the need to give away, for me, is the energy of the play. With Miranda, Prospero’s magic accomplishes nothing. It is the human relationship between them that grips us and holds us. It is the very power that he has, to control even the elements, that entraps him. It does not work on Miranda. Think of the absurd demand he makes on Miranda’s intended—to pick up a few logs, something his magic could have transported with a single word. Think of the farewell he whispers to his much-loved spirit Ariel, almost all of which is single syllable words. Here in this farewell, his loneliness is refined to an essence, and his saying good-bye to the sprite is both a great loss and a small freedom. Mr Gore’s first-rate performance was revelatory.

Jason Asprey’s Caliban also had the pathos I believe the character expresses. He did not exaggerate. His great speech, “Be not afeared… the isle is full of noises…” fit well the depth of his sad slavery. Who but Shakespeare would give a creature half-human a speech like this?

The performing cast was lively and true, all of which helped me concentrate on Prospero more fully. His final and great speech is usually read as a sad giving-way to age. What it really is, is the lessening of his burden.

You may say this take is too dark. It is dark, but true. It was a highlight in my theater-going experience, matched only by Derek Jacobi’s quiet performance with the Royal Shakespeare Company in London in 1984.

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