Conjuring up Shakespeare’s magic with live 3D holograms
RSC teams up with man who created Gollum to bring contemporary tricks and twists to The Tempest
MORE than 400 years ago, Shakespeare was busy dazzling his first audiences with the latest in baffling theatre technology, from trap doors to exploding fireworks and the sound of rumbling thunder.
This year, the Royal Shakespeare Company is hoping to create the same impact as it becomes the first theatre to conjure live digital avatars to join the actors on stage.
The RSC will work with studios run by Andy Serkis – who transformed himself into Gollum in Lord of the Rings – and Intel to use the latest digital technology in a new production of The Tem
pest, starring Simon Russell Beale. While details of the project are still in development, it hopes to transform the character of Ariel into a mystical 3D hologram, which will react with the cast as it is projected live on stage.
The final version will incorporate and update a technique already used in Hollywood, where the movements of actors dressed in specially designed suits are mimicked by a character on screen.
Rather than being pre-recorded and projected on stage each night, it is hoped the 2016 Ariel will be seen in live motion capture, with an expert controlling the movements from backstage.
The teams are experimenting with special effects that allow the hologram to appear covered in fire or water or changing shape, to captivate a new generation.
However, the hi-tech special effect will be matched by traditional, centuries-old techniques such as Pepper’s Ghost, which uses a mirror image to allow objects and people to fade or transform.
Russell Beale will return to Stratford-upon-Avon to play Prospero, the magician, in what is designed to be a “spectacular finale” to the season commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the company’s jubilee year.
Gregory Doran, the artistic director of the RSC said: “Shakespeare includes a masque in The Tempest – they were the multimedia events of their day, using innovative technology from the Continent to produce astonishing effects, with moving lights and stage machinery that could make people fly and descend from the clouds.
“In one such masque, apparently, Oberon arrived in a chariot drawn by a live polar bear. “So I wanted to see what would happen if the very latest cutting edge 21st century technology could be applied to Shakespeare’s play today.
“We contacted the leaders in the field, Intel, and they were delighted to come on board. And we have been developing our ideas with them, and Andy Serkis’s brilliant Imaginarium Studios to produce wonders.” Russell Beale, who re- turns to the RSC 20 years after playing Ariel in a 1996 Sam Mendes production of the play, said: “I am thrilled to be returning to the RSC after so many years – it’s like coming home – especially for a project as exciting and experimental as this.”
The Tempest, which will open in November, will be joined in the 400th anniversary Winter Season by King
Lear, starring Sir Anthony Sher in the title role, David Troughton as Gloucester and Paapa Essiedu as Edmund.
It will run in rep with Cymbeline, in which Melly Still, the director, will alter tradition by making the title role a queen of a divided Britain, not a king. Shakespeare’s Globe is also putting on a version of the play, entitled Imogen, that challenges the gender roles by placing a woman centre stage.
The RSC will continue to celebrate the 30th birthday of its Swan theatre with productions of The Two Noble
Kinsmen by Shakespeare and John Fletcher, telling the story of two friends embarking on “absurd adventures and painful confusions” in a study of “the intoxication and strangeness of love”.
The 1677 play The Rover by Aphra Behn, arguably the first female professional playwright in England, will be staged at the Swan for the first time since 1986, when Jeremy Irons performed it in the opening season.
The Winter Season, announced officially today, will be completed by a new play, The Seven Acts of Mercy, by Anders Lustgarten, inspired by a Caravaggio painting of the same name and challenging the “dangerous necessity of compassion” over 400 years.
Mr Doran said of the season: “I cannot think of a clearer way of showing the ‘infinite variety’ of Shakespeare’s work and the inspiration he has provided over the centuries.
“Shakespeare is for everyone and we want to share his legacy with the widest possible audience. His inheritance is for the many, not the few.”
Simon Russell Beale in an image that illustrates how the RSC will use latest technology to make the character Ariel appear as a live 3D hologram onstage for The Tempest
Above, the masque scene, in a 1951 performance of The Tempest, was Shakespeare’s version of a multimedia event. Below, Andy Serkis as Golllum – his company is working with the RSC on the new production