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Hidden Spire 2015: Before The Tempest

Hidden Spire 2015 was Before The Tempest, a show which imagined what life was like on the island for Miranda and Prospero as a prequel to Shakespeare’s classic tale of love, magic and bad weather.


'There are so many threads to Hidden Spire; from the writing and art workshops in the summer residency, to devising workshops with actors and design sessions with visual arts in the spring, to building the set and chorus rehearsals in the summer, and our final rehearsal period this September. We have worked with 56 Crisis members and 29 professional artists. Some have dipped their toe in and others have seen the project along its whole course.


'Whether we have worked with someone for a few hours or several weeks, everyone’s contribution has been instrumental in bringing together what you see today; from the individual characters of our chorus of birds, to the artwork you see hanging on Prospero’s tree. It is the many different voices woven together that make the fabric of this piece and it is this enriching process which continues to challenge and reward all of us who work on the project.'

-Lizzy McBain, director

Recap video

Photography by Josh Tomalin and James Sutton.

Watch the show

Looking for a place to perch?

Artist Rachel Barberesi has been looking for set materials in some interesting places...


Sourcing the materials and objects we need for the set of ‘Before the Tempest’ has involved some lateral thinking and brought us into contact with lots of different organizations and businesses in Oxford.  From Oxfam who donated surplus books to ‘Oxford wood recycling’ from whom we bought wood, and of course Orinoco – Oxford’s scrap store – the source of many bizarre and wonderful things, many of the objects and materials we have found have histories of their own.


This is particularly true of the sections of oak we sourced from Oxford Parks Department which will bring the texture and rawness of unprocessed wood into our stage set.

I met Jo Huntley at the Parks depot to look at their collection of wood from trees in public spaces around Oxford that have been felled or pruned. They have built up a huge stack of wood, most of which is not of quality or quantity to be sold or used elsewhere, and much of which will become bark chippings to be used as mulch. I noticed some recently felled branches of an oak tree which were still covered in green ivy. These come from a huge old tree in Magdalen Wood that was damaged in a recent storm. Huge boughs fell from the tree, but thankfully the tree itself could be preserved after unsafe branches were removed. The pieces of wood I chose have lots of character and the grain of the wood is easy to see as they were sawn up so recently. These will be used as 'perches' for the birds during the performance.

I wanted to find a wide but shallow section of tree trunk and this proved harder to locate. Jo wasn’t optimistic, but she climbed to the top of the wood stack and uncovered a wonderful piece of wood that is quite rotten and habitat to many mini-beasts. The jury is out on whether this will be included.  It might be too rich a habitat to put into a theatre!


Artist Nicola Armitage followed the development of the show from script-writing to performance. She presented the material she collected as an exhibition.


‘From documenting the workshops, I have been inspired by the range of creative processes involved; from the initial sketches and discussions through to movement, expression, light and sound workshops, costume and set design. I have witnessed the ideas generated throughout this time change, develop and gather momentum towards final production.’ - Nicola Armitage

Creative writing

Renata Allen, the playwright, tells us her story:

During the Creative Writing week some members came along for the whole week because they love writing and regularly attend a Saturday class through term time; others arrived for a new creative experience or simply to gain confidence in crafting words on paper.

This week was to be a free process of discovery but to help get to know one another we began by discussing the writing we enjoyed as well as theatre and film.

To begin with the group explored a variety of approaches looking at how the senses can inform descriptive writing and transform an ordinary experience into something far more heightened. Some members preferred to write poetry while others explored writing prose, but in all cases a very strong sense of landscape and space emerged. As the writers read out their first pieces of work we found ourselves at funfairs, by sea shores, in mazes, by canals, in Antartica and soon there were people and encounters in these places. The writers drew from their own experiences but also started to explore how all sorts of characters can inhabit a story discussing what has to be known about them, what doesn’t have to be said, how a storyline develops and takes shape.

This led us to explore some traditional folk tales and try writing our own. Fantastic, outlandish creatures emerged at this point and characters were transported to imagined landscapes where magic had the power to transform anyone and anything.

Assisting the project was a student from Ruskin College who encouraged us next to adapt a traditional tale into a completely different form, showing us how one can borrow a structure and an existing narrative to create something original and contemporary. Some dialogues and scripted pieces began to take shape.

Our last explorations were written in response to the Art work that had been created during the first week of the project. Three of the writers had made visual pieces and showed us their work. Others, who hadn’t been involved, were inspired to join the second Art week and from this point the two creative processes began to merge. The writing group wrote in response to the Art they saw and many of them then went on to create more visual pieces with the Artists in the weeks following. These were then brought into the theatre on the final Friday of this first stage of the project.

We didn’t have one particular narrative in our minds but as we all looked at the visual work and the way projections transformed shapes and objects in a theatrical space, we could sense the excitement of how the visual process might be integrated into a dramatic story of transformation. With everyone involved in the project all together in the same space a great many impressions and thoughts were shared.

Personally for me the Creative Writing week was a wonderful time and I am so grateful to everyone involved for being so positive, for jumping in so bravely and, at the same time, being so reflective and sensitive to the process of working in a group. Alongside the weeks focuing on Art, it has been a brilliant period of exploration and research, and there has been so much to inspire the next stage of the Hidden Spire project.

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