diary

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 sixteenth-century sailors.
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 there.

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. .

 

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