After watching the 2007 GCSE drama performances, students were asked to choose a play to evaluate. I chose a play called Life is a Tempest; this was because I enjoyed the way the actors explored how the stories of Shakespeare can parallel reality. I also liked how the props and costumes in this play were minimalistic in contrast to the complex storyline and dialogue.
Life as a Tempest opened with a storm – literally; flashing lights represented the bad weather faced by a royal party. Black wooden blocks were the ship carrying King Alonso and his company on their way to Africa. As the master of the boat tries to keep it afloat, Alonso’s men, Antonio and Sebastian come up on deck to give orders. They stand on the blocks – higher than everyone else underlining their authority, the scene ends in argument, with Gonzalo remaining the only calm member of the crew while the ship is splitting in half.
The play then cuts to a different story, also one of difficulty. A man named Joe is facing an angry boss, who is unhappy with his work. He threatens him with his job despite knowing it is the sole support for Joe’s son. Joe is forced to put pressure on his son James to find a job adding to the worries he is already dealing with. Some of these include: his best friend depending on him for collecting narcotics, and his relationship with his girlfriend, Mary falling apart. After losing a game of chess, James receives the advice: ‘Sometimes James, you need to take one step backwards to take two steps forward’, unfortunately James interprets this as a suggestion to finish with his girlfriend. One criticism I would make however, is that despite trying to show Mary being upset, she was situated close to the audience. To better demonstrate her distress I would have placed her towards the back of the stage because this would have evoked a feeling of loneliness as she would be distanced from the audience.
To illustrate the end of Mary and James’ relationship, the scene turns into that of Romeo and Juliet also by Shakespeare. They portray the passion and chaos of love- the scene ending with the rhyming couplet- ‘For never was a story of more woe/ than this of Juliet and her Romeo.’ Overhead the song ‘Runaway Love’ is playing, adding to the pathos felt by the audience for Mary’s undeserving loss.
In the end, things straighten out for Joe and his son. James and Mary become a couple once more with James turning out to be more vibrant and passionate because of their reunion. The play ends with a scene from Macbeth and the ghost of Banquo joins them at a banquet wearing a white shirt, contrasting with everyone else wearing black. As he is sitting there, with everyone else oblivious to him, blood begins to trickle out of his mouth and down his shirt, stressing that he is dead. This technique is effective in that it shocks the audience, providing a memorable conclusion.
In this piece, there were seven actors altogether; however they each played multiple roles. An example of this was a student named Tom playing Gonzalo from The Tempest also playing an older version of another character and James’ best friend earlier in the story. Despite the doubling, tripling and even quadrupling of characters, the changes were clear to the audience because of the varieties of language used. Characters changed from quoting Shakespearean English in one scene to modern dialects.
One aspect of this play which I particularly enjoyed was the minimal use of props, consisting in total of a few red roses, a letter and a mask in addition to the black blocks and chairs which featured in every scene. The minimalistic approach was also incorporated into their costumes; each person wore black in every scene except for the conclusion where the ghost of Banquo wore a white shirt. This was powerful as it made him the centre of attention. By using only essentials, it meant that we as an audience were able to focus on the dialogue and facial expressions communicated by the actors rather than get distracted by objects or costumes. The atmosphere throughout the entire play was dark and gloomy. Pathetic fallacy was used in the lighting and sound as it complimented the feelings evoked by the script, the lights were usually dimmed with spotlights being used when appropriate.
This group used drama techniques such as viewpoints throughout their play. Whether it was placing the tallest person next to the shortest to create a contrast or using levels to show authority such as in the introductory scene during the storm. Another scene in which they used viewpoints was when Joe was having an argument with his boss after being fired. Despite the characters talking to each other, they both faced the audience, allowing us to see their facial expressions and reactions.
There were also monologues, for example Mary’s after James chose to end their relationship. Another instance where someone was talking solely to the audience was when James read a letter from Mary. This allowed variation but was also successful in that we were able to see the instant emotion expressed by the recipient.
The main theme of Life is a Tempest was sacrifice. Joe surrenders his job, despite it being his only source income because of the harsh conditions his boss was setting. In turn, his boss fired his best worker because he wasn’t complying with the unrealistic deadlines he was setting. Also, Joe’s son- James sacrificed his girlfriend because of all that was going on in his life, despite still loving her.
I enjoyed this play immensely due to the labyrinthine storyline and the way it contrasted to the simple lights, costumes and props. I particularly liked the way they incorporated the work of Shakespeare into the plot and how it complimented the events happening in present time.