South Hill Park

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Interview with Joe Malyan, Director of South Hill Park’s The Tempest

January 6, 2020

South Hill Park’s production of Shakespeare’s famous last play The Tempest (Tue 4 – Sun 9 Feb) promises to bring mystery and magic to the Wilde Theatre stage. We spoke to Joe Malyan (director) about his creative process in approaching such a well-known Shakespeare play, and what audiences have to look forward to in this filmic adaption…

Tell us about your process of bringing The Tempest to the stage?

When I was first approached by South Hill Park to direct The Tempest, my first question or request is always having original music. My next request is asking George Jennings to create it. I’ve worked with George for a number of years, and his music style, and my cinematic approach to directing always seem to work exceptionally well together. His music enhances moments of high tension or emotion, and also serves to beautifully cover the transitions, allowing the audience to sit back, relax whilst listening to stunning music and contemplating what they have just seen unfolding before them. I also find myself making directorial decisions after listening to the music.

The beauty when starting the process of staging a Shakespeare is always the discovery after reading the text that everything you need as a director is there in the words. I know this sounds like a sweeping, and potentially pretentious statement, but I honestly believe that. After working with other texts over the last few years, I always find myself sighing with relief when I read a Shakespeare play as they always seems to make the most sense and the ideas for staging it come organically from the first reading. This was no different with The Tempest. I read through the script and immediately knew how I wanted it to be staged, and what I wanted it to look like. After speaking with my incredibly talented creative team, Victoria Spearing (Set), Anne Thomson (Costume) and Alan Valentine (Lighting), we were able to create an aesthetic which suited my directing style, but also gave a fresh approach to this famous play.

What are some of the difficulties surrounding staging a well-known Shakespeare play and how did you approach them?

The challenge when staging a popular Shakespeare play is trying to surprise the practised theatre goer, as well as making it accessible to the new comers. I hope that my filmic style of staging, which bridges the gap between cinema and theatre achieves both of these.

Making the text accessible to a student audience is also one of the things which I strive to achieve. The key to this is firstly making sure the cast are confident that they know what they saying and what their intentions are. Intentions provide meaning. I also like to add sections of story-telling which can either help clarify what is happening in the more ‘complicated’ sections, or add details which provide more of an insight into the characters. For example, I’ve added a moment of storytelling at the start of the production which is not specifically in the text, but which I believe helps the setting of the story, and the main protagonists within it.

Why did you choose to change the gender of some of the characters?

The Tempest has 15 named parts, and only 1 of them is specifically identified as being female. I always aim to have a gender balanced cast whenever possible, and so I created an audition brief with almost every role being gender neutral i.e. could be played by a male or female actor. Whilst casting it was then simple to just chose the best candidate for each role. It’s not so much about making a political statement by having a female Prospero and a female Antonio, I just cast the best people for those roles. However, it does provide a nice dynamic to change the theme of male rivalry to female, and I think it offers the actresses playing these roles to really get their teeth into roles which are otherwise very difficult to find in mainstream theatre.

Are you excited to be working with Victoria Spearing (award-winning designer) again?

Victoria and I have worked together for over 10 years, and I’m always amazed at how she managed to translate my whirlwind of ideas into a cohesive and original set design. The Tempest is no different, and I honestly believe people will never have seen a design like this one.

What can audiences expect?

Audiences will be watching a cinematic and fantastical production, with moments of tension as well as comedy. They will hear a beautiful original score, sung and performed live by a chorus of singers, and a professional band, weaving its way through the plot, enhancing the story and the journeys of the characters within it. They will see stunning and innovative set and costume designs, enhanced by beautiful lighting.

Experience this enchanting and cinematic adaption for yourself this February. For more information and tickets click here or call the Box Office on 01344 484123.