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RSC casts digital magic over Prospero's island

Stratford Editorial 14th Oct, 2016 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

THE MAGIC of the theatre is about to meet the magic of 21st century technology in a world first on the RSC stage in Stratford.

Shakeapeare’s extraordinary imagination created all manner of magical creatures which have long given directors and actors a chance to flex their creative muscles, re-imagining sprites, fairies and witches with every new production.

But the company has now teamed up with Intel and The Imaginarium Studios, to bring the latest tech to the RST stage for the upcoming production of The Tempest – which will see spirit Ariel re-created as a digital avatar.

It stars Simon Russell Beale as the island-ruling magician Prospero, with Mark Quartley as the ensnared Ariel.

Motion capture technology is at the heart of the re-imagining but it has never before been used live to bring another dimension to a character. TV and movies bring characters to life in post-production editing, as seen on the likes of blockbuster films such as Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes.

The movements of Quartley’s Ariel will be projected on and around the stage, including flying and morphing into different versions of the spirit.

He admits the role will present some physical challenges, but says that is what makes to role fun to play.

“It will be a physically demanding part but that’s part of the draw. If there’s one part in Shakespeare where you get some amazing language, get to sing some songs, you get to explore movement Ariel is a great challenge for an actor.

“I’m looking after myself but really enjoying the physical challenge and how to play a spirit as well and trying to avoid being a cliche.”

While most people expect to see a skin-tight suit with ping-pong balls attached to various body parts to capture the movements of the actor, Quartley’s costume will conceal the motion capture technology so he can appear on stage as himself, while also as the avatar off stage away from the view of the audience. Off stage he would react to the human actors controlling the digital avatar – allowing seemingly magical happenings such as Ariel appearing as if out of thin air or vanishing just as quickly.

Director Greg Doran has been planning the production since 2014.

Head of digital development at the company, Sarah Ellis, shared a clip of Intel’s ‘The Leviathan’ with the RSC artistic director in the early stages of the project and it was decided The Tempest should have something as innovative to bring to the stage.

She describes The Imaginariam Studios – which was co-founded by Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit actor Andy ‘Gollum’ Serkis – as the ‘wizards’ who were bringing the avatar of Ariel to life, which will fly around the stage interacting with stage veteran Russell Beale’s Prospero.

The cast are still in rehearsals and are yet to see the full effect of Ariel’s stage presence.

The Tempest runs at from November 8 to January 21. Visit www.rsc.org.uk for further details.

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