We’re in a rehearsal space in Nós do Morro , high on the slope of the Vidigal favela with Ipanema beach and one of the greatest views of Rio stretched out beneath us. Outside a blazing afternoon sun; inside six older women weaving in and out of each other, chanting from photocopied scraps of text:
The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till in action, lust…
They move around the room changing direction at each point of punctuation:
…Is perjur’d, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
They are tracked by the hawk-eyed gaze of their teacher, Royal Shakespeare Company’s Voice Director Cicely Berry. “In the beginning it was absurd. After, in my head there was a kind of Tempest”, said Lillian, one of the Brazilian actresses reflecting on the experience. “While she (Cicely Berry) was explaining I began to get the idea and I liked it. I liked it because of the feelings of love, of hate and anger and affection and everything that I feel. It plays with our heart and we fell in love with him, with Shakespeare.”
In such a short space of time Cicely enables the older performers to physically experience the emotional landscape of the language of the sonnets; the energy and drive of the thought. The experience transcends time. Here in this space Shakespeare is literally seducing these Brazilian women:
Being your slave, what should I do but tend
Upon the hours and times of your desire?
Carmen, another older member of the company, said that as a lover and a wife the language brought back the full emotions of sex, of being together with her husband before he died. “In the class it was”, she said, “like my spirit had left my body and was walking down a long corridor with doors on either side, opening all of the doors. And behind each door was a new word of Shakespeare.”
It’s an auspicious start to the opening weeks of our shared Tempest project with Casa das Fases. This phase made possible with the support of People’s Palace Projects and the British Council. The workshops were part of a much wider programme Forum Shakespeare bringing together teachers and directors from the Royal Shakespeare Company to celebrate the twenty fifth anniversary of Nós do Morro. The event culminated with a public master class led by Cicely Berry and RSC director Justin Audibert held in the auditorium of the Brazilian Academy of Letters. Casa das Fases and Entelechy showed a short film about the initial stages of our work in the Tempest Project and two of the Brazilian elders spoke passionately of their first encounter with the sonnets.