Shakespeare's Tempest in an Asian teacup

On one wall of the Drama Centre rehearsal room is a concept board, where sketches and pictures are tacked up for creative inspiration.

There is a printed-out still from the Japanese horror film The Ring, in which the lank, dark hair of a clammy-skinned figure in white obscures her face.

There are the vibrant swirls of a Chinese opera mask, next to the long, flaming red hair of unnamed spirt with deadly crimson talons.

The concept board is not for a horror-movie production, but for Singapore Repertory Theatre's upcoming edition of Shakespeare In The Park, The Tempest.

Believed to have been written around 1610, the play is thought by many critics to be the last play that Shakespeare wrote alone before he died in 1616.

One of his most enduring and open-ended plays, it is a tale brimming with magic and romance.

On a remote island, the rightful Duke of Milan, Prospero, lives in exile with his daughter, Miranda, and various other creatures and spirits of the island. In order to restore his daughter to her rightful place, he conjures up a storm which sweeps his usurping brother and the complicit King Alonso of Naples to his shores.

Though on the surface, the narrative of the play is straightforward, British director Braham Murray points out that The Tempest is multi-layered and complex.

Some critics have seen allusions to the Bard himself in Prospero, while others suggest that the different creatures on the island represent different facets of Prospero's personality.

Murray, who is one of the founding artistic directors of the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, Britain, says: "The guiding kind of idea behind the play is very complex, but hopefully with the help of wonderful choreography, lighting and sound, the audience will be delighted by the magical story."

He decided to fuse European and Asian cultures, in the styling of characters and their costumes.

"One of the exciting things about doing The Tempest in Singapore is that it's very much a play to do with the spirits of the island," he says.

"In England, people don't have much truck with spirits of the island, whereas the Asian cultures have much more truck with it, and so we've tried to visually conjure up images from this culture."

He was also inspired by a trip to the Asian Civilisations Museum here, where "in almost every room was something astonishing and terrifying to look at".

The sorcery and spells in the play will be supported by an equally enchanted set, which Murray and the production team want to keep a secret from the audience. He only lets on that it is "jolly big" and with "all sorts of tricks in it".

Singaporean actress Julie Wee, who will be playing Miranda, says that delivering a fine performance while on the slopes of Fort Canning Green is not always easy.

"You have to take care of each others' safety, because it's outdoors. It might have rained earlier in the day and you might have to contend with the weather."

Sometimes, the creatures of the park also decide to get involved. She recounts how during a previous Shakespeare In The Park production, Much Ado About Nothing (2009), a large moth was fluttering around the stage, drawing the attention of the audience, only to be accidentally stepped on by a member of the cast.

"Everyone went 'Oh!'," she says, covering her hands with her mouth. "But after that, we all just carried on."

Wee adds that something which all the cast members have to contend with is the heat and humidity. While she says that she has no problem with it, Briton Simon Robson, who wears a heavy cloak to play Prospero, may not be quite used to the heat.

However, Robson quips: "I live in France and I just went through a very cold French winter, so I quite like the weather here."

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