Bermuda January 19, 2002
I couldn't come here and not write an entry into
the diary about this visit. Sometimes when I look back on my
acting career, I may be tempted to become a little melancholic.
I haven't quite had the career I had envisaged - I mean with
respect to where I imagined myself to be. I had always wanted
to become ensconced at the RSC and happily perform Shakespeare
there forever. All those trips to see Judi Dench, Alan Howard
and co in the 60s and 70s had implanted that desire in me very
early. However, now, looking back I would not change anything.
I have had instead an eclectic exciting career which has given
me wonderful parts in beautiful places all over the world.
One highlight was traveling to Oslo to perform
Almers in Ibsen's Little Eyolf for the National Theatre of Norway
in their International Ibsen Festival. The rest of the cast
were Norwegian, but we performed in English. I was exposed to
two months of Ibsen history, background, people, sights and
sounds. Visiting his birthplace, the places where he walked
and worked and also the mountains which inspired him. Mind blowing!
Another special occasion was playing Caliban in
Japan and Israel. Working for Peter Hall and with Alan Bates
and Gemma Jones in The Master Builder; films with Peter Sellers
and Richard Burton; Dr Who; Lord Illingworth in Wilde's A Woman
of No Importance and Capt. Von Trapp in The Sound of Music at
Leicester Haymarket would also qualify for Technicolor moments.
So to this week in Bermuda which has now joined
those special memories.
It surprised me to hear that The Tempest is so rarely performed
here. Shakespeare based his play partly on accounts of a shipwreck
that happened here in 1609.
The story goes like this:
On June 2, 1609, five hundred colonists set out
in nine ships from Plymouth in association with the imperial
Virginia Company. It was the aim of this expedition to fortify
John Smith's colony in Virginia. While eight of the party's
vessels securely arrived at Jamestown, the flagship, aptly christened
the Sea Adventure, was conspicuously absent. This ship--which
carried the fleet's most valuable cargo, the admiral Sir John
Somers and the future governor of Virginia Sir George Somers--was
separated from the other eight during a fierce storm off the
coast of Bermuda, the legendary Isle of Devils, dreaded by superstitious
William Strachey describes the tempest which precipitated the
ship's "wracke" in a letter dated July 15, 1610:
"a dreadful storme and hideous began to blow from out the North-east,
which swelling, and roaring as it were by fits, some hours with
more violence than others, at length did beate all light from
heaven; which like an hell of darkenesse turned blacke upon
us, so much the more fuller of horror."
Bermuda, upon whose coast the ship ran aground, however, did
not appear as menacing as the tumultuous storm that so terrorized
Strachey and the crew. Rather, it proved a haven, like the isle
of Caliban's dream, full of "sounds and sweet airs, that gave
delight, and hurt not" [III. ii. 134], and provided the colonists
with shelter, food and "wood enough" to repair the Sea Adventure
's wounded pinnacles. The flagship's late arrival at Jamestown,
roughly a year after the Virginia Company fleet had originally
set sail, was regarded as a miracle and prompted several written
accounts, of which Strachey's letter (circulated in manuscript
form until its publication in 1625) was one. Shakespearean scholars
suggest that this nautical sensation and three of the pamphlets
that detailed the adventure influenced Shakespeare's final play,
written in 1613.
Bermuda is a lot smaller than I had imagined.
It is a string of islands in a horseshoe shape surrounded by
the most northern coral reef in the world. It isn't in the Caribbean.
It is in the North Atlantic, but the Gulf Stream flows close
by. I hadn't really thought about the Bermuda Triangle until
I was in the plane. Somehow all those mysterious disappearances
seem the least of worries. We hadn't performed the show for
a couple of months and I was a little nervous of the first performance.
But although definitely more reserved, the English audience
gave us a rapturous reception and the local critics proved to
be as equally generous in their praise. Robert was unable to
come with us as his green card still hasn't come through, but
Peter was very pleased and there was relief all round.
We have been looked after incredibly well here.
The festival has put us up in an all inclusive resort, the Harmony
Club, which serves us breakfast and dinner. The local cocktail
is called A Dark and Stormy… dark rum and ginger beer… which
was just as lethal as a New Orleans Hurricane. A beautiful beach
is a 10 minute walk away; white sands tinged with pink, palm
trees on the hills, all beside a blue, quite blue, turquoise
shimmering sea. A team of wonderful ladies of a certain age
drive us to and from the theatre. Their welcome was warm and
generous. The island retains a high British atmosphere which
reminded me a lot of Guernsey… the channel island where I spent
my summers growing up as my Dad ran a summer weekly rep company
On our second night the acting governor came backstage
to meet us… a nice young man called Tim from Manchester. On
the Friday we had a welcome day off and mercifully the weather
was good. In the morning Nate Flowers and I were driven by Sally
Madden to St George's. This is at the northern tip of the island
and is where Sir George Summers and the Sea Venture crew came
ashore. In the harbor lay a full-size replica of the Deliverance,
one of the two ships they built to continue their journey on
to Jamestown. Sally's father was asked to design it and he was
the one who did all the painstaking research. Also in the harbor
is a statue of Sir George, and as I had my photo taken with
him I said a little prayer of thanks … for being the one to
make Strachey write his account, and thereby inspiring Shakespeare
to write his masterpiece.
St George's was also the Confederate center for the blockade
running that took place here in the American Civil War.
Saturday was Wrath of Achilles day with new comedy
scene to install. All of us were very very nervous, but again
it seemed to be received very warmly. Indeed this proved the
case. We received rapturous reviews; three for Tempest and one
glowing one for Achilles. After the last show, the Festival
organizers threw a wonderful reception for us at a beautiful
200 year old private house. Wonderful food and copious amounts
of liquor helped the party go with a swing. I got away before
becoming embarrassing and slept soundly, narrowly missing a
late night beach-swimming party. Probably just as well.
The next day I rushed down to the beach to squeeze
in one last swim in a boiling ocean. Then up to the bar for
one last Dark and Stormy.We flew back to snow on the ground
in Newark and a sensation that the rest of the tour was going
to have a hard time coming up with anything approaching the
magical experience we had all felt on Bermuda - Prospero's island.