Caro Meets Musicals & Opera Interview

Jasmine Morris: Tempest

By | Published on Friday 4 March 2022

Coming up at The Pleasance Theatre this week courtesy of award-winning theatre company Wildcard is a new and fabulous sounding adaptation of a Shakespeare favourite ‘The Tempest’.

Wildcard’s take on the play is a gig-theatre version that tells the classic tale in such a way that it remains faithful to the Bard’s story, but also adds a definite contemporary relevance. 

To find out more about the show, and how it was put together, I spoke to composer Jasmine Morris.   

CM: Could you start by talking to us about the format of the show – for anyone who is unfamiliar with gig theatre?
JM: Gig theatre incorporates live music and storytelling in order to magnify and heighten the narrative of the play. By combining these two different art forms we create an exciting new form of drama that immerses itself within the audience, making it a unique experience that takes the performance to the next level.

CM: Why and how was the company inspired to do it with a Shakespeare play?
JM: ‘The Tempest’ is arguably one of the most reachable of Shakespeare’s plays in its imaginatively fantastical and enchanted settings. The highly complex nature of the characters and magical creatures that emerge from the play make for a highly dramatic and sensational experience.

By using music and soundscapes to highlight the otherworldly attributes of the mysterious isle, we enhance the various moods of the play from the highly comedic moments to the more ominous, sinister instances of plotting and dark magic.

Ariel is portrayed almost exclusively through sound and light in order to make her feel intangible to the audience. Every time we hear her breathy, expansive droning sound world we are reminded of her infinite magic. Prospero’s powers are illustrated through whirring and clanging metallic noises that resonate throughout the play.

Caliban’s beast-like nature is illustrated through rhythmic passages and we explore his character through various genres such as rap and drum n bass. His language is so bizarre and poetic that it is rhythmic and lyrical by its original nature.

CM: Does the show tell the original story faithfully?
JM: This production of ‘The Tempest’ stays truthful to the narrative of the story but retells it in a way that musically and visually relates the original themes and symbolisms to our current social and political situation.

There is little within this performance that differs text-wise except for some of the songs which have original lyrics written by the director, such as the Ferdinand and Miranda songs. And we have reimagined Ariel’s famous ‘Full Fathom Five’ using the original text but in a way that unfolds in a more alternative and experimental sound world.

CM: So, are you basically updating things a bit – ie, bringing the bard to a more contemporary, younger audience?
JM: We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to explore and enjoy theatre in a way that is accessible and inclusively innovative. By incorporating contemporary ideas within the play we strive to reach and move the minds of a diverse audience that ranges from those who’ve never seen a play to those who are seasoned theatre goers. By embracing influences from diverse musical and theatrical practices, we are able to present this astonishing play in its fullest form that is accessible to all.

CM: As composer, did you just hand over the music and step back, or has it been an ongoing collaborative process…?
JM: Writing the music for ‘Tempest’ was an extremely involved process and I spent a majority of my time working closely with the director, cast and sound engineer in almost every one of their rehearsal sessions.

The nature of producing gig theatre is very convoluted in that a lot of the musical material comes from simply playing around with hundreds of different ideas in jam sessions. Sometimes they worked, and sometimes whole passages of music had to be scrapped altogether. Every day we worked to carve away at the musical structure of the play.

Before the R and D period, director James Meteyard approached me and asked me to make a few soundworlds that we could use as prompts for any underscoring that we could recreate live on stage. He recorded himself reading passages from the script for me to use as inspiration, and I created a soundworld that enveloped the text. 

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your creative process, where do you start when writing music?
JM: My creative process changes a lot depending on my brief and the instrumentalists with whom I’m working.

If I’m given a programme with a specific idea that connects all the pieces for the concert, I will spend time listening to the music that exists around my soundworld and reflect on how I can best enhance the whole concert and not limit my thought process to the impact of my own work. I will also reflect on the ideas behind the concert. I will research, read various different texts, go to concerts, and watch films for inspiration.

I think it’s important to think about how other forms of art can inform our creative thought process. In ‘Tempest’, I’ve been presented with very specific ideas and have worked to make sure each musical genre and underscoring feels vibrant and authentic.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your history with music? How did you know it was the career you wanted to pursue?
JM: Both my parents work in the music, theatre and sound industry, so composition has been something that has been integral to my upbringing. I was brought up in Soho where I spent a majority of my childhood visiting rehearsal spaces as well as venues to see performances of every kind. This was hugely formative for me as I was able to quickly build an understanding of the world of music, theatre, art and dance. I always knew I wanted to be involved in music in some way as I really enjoyed performing and writing music and working with various artists, dancers and filmmakers.

CM: What have been the highlights of your work so far?
JM: I have been very lucky and am so grateful for the opportunities where I’ve been able to work with symphony orchestras, string quartets, chamber ensembles, singers and choirs. One of the main highlights for me was a commission for the Solem Quartet for their concert series BBN where they perform the late Beethoven and Bartok quartets in conjunction with a work by a living composer. In this concert I performed live electronics alongside the string quartet, a string orchestra and contemporary dancers. This was a really exciting multimedia and immersive project.

CM: What aims and hopes do you have for the future?
JM: I hope to work in film and art installations as I love to write to an image or moving images. I find it really inspiring and fulfilling to immerse myself in different art forms in order to bring together different genres to make a rich and immersive performance. I really enjoy learning about practices that don’t directly relate to my own, and I would love to learn more about what it’s like to be a filmmaker, stage designer, sound engineer or lighting engineer.

CM: What’s coming up next for you? What do you have in the pipeline?
JM: I have various projects lined up for the next year. I am currently writing a parade-style opera based on a retelling of Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ for the Aldeburgh Music Festival this summer. I have also been commissioned to write a new piece for Riot Ensemble to be premiered in 2023 at King’s Place. Finally, an album I wrote during the last lockdown called ‘Astrophilia’, for an ensemble of viking instruments, will be released by the record label NonClassical this Spring. A gallery/installation style performance of the album is scheduled for next year.

‘Tempest’ is on at The Pleasance Theatre from 11 Mar-3 Apr. For more information and to book tickets head to the venue website here.

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