As the clouds spread, rain falls, all things flow into their shapes. I find myself amongst the spill from the streets as it slowly trickles and sways into The King’s Theatre. Who are all these people? What brings them here? Is it in celebration of a unique and insightful reworking of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, or are we here to bask in the glow of a literary goddess?
The stage set, the din hushed and we were treated to an open discourse with Margaret Atwood hosted by book critic Stuart Kelly. Atwood’s relaxed manner and rich animated drawl made for a truly captivating talk. She is a natural storyteller; at once sharp, charming and brimming with mischief.
We were treated to insightful, provocative takes on the questions from Kelly and the audience. Atwood covered abandoned works (one of which made way for The Handmaid’s Tale), gender inequalities among various echelons of society, the parallels between dystopian literature and our current political climate, and revenge.
Atwood’s most recent work Hag-Seed is about a storm, illusions, incarceration and vengeance… lots of vengeance. Hag-Seed brings The Tempest into the 21st century with all the pomp, perspicacity, humour and tragedy you would expect from the Bard himself. Well at the very least he would have liked the book, at least that’s what I would like to think. Let’s just leave that up to you to decide. I don’t beleive he’ll mind, and besides, it’s unlikely he’ll return to rebut it.
Why The Tempest? Atwood says it was always going to be The Tempest, by a mile. Being one of the first approached to contribute towards the Hogarth Shakespeare series, it was never a question. It was going to be The Tempest or not at all! With the play there are so many unanswered questions, so much is left to the reader. Trying to bring some light to these questions, and tease out the complexities of the characters made reworking the play an exciting challenge. Something worthy of exploration, a journey with almost limitless possibilities.
One part of the discussions that stood out was of Shakespeare’s characters, and how open to interpretation they are. In Shakespeare’s day, many of the lines were spoken ad lib, reworked, forgotten, rewritten. The most widespread canon was pieced together from disparate sources; the characters open to discourse, ephemeral, always changing. We are asked to look within these avatars and see them with a keener eye and a broader scope.
Hag-Seed demonstrates this beautifully, showing us that the lines between good and evil become blurred to a point where there is no distinction. It is perception and circumstance that defines the characters’ actions. It is the ability to look beyond their transgressions to see them as they are meant to be seen; flawed, mutable and of course human. Oh, and let’s not forget the aliens, gods, strange entities, illusions and non-corporeal embodiments of grief.
What brought us together this evening? It was one of our finest authors, we came to pay homage, and bask in her glow.