By Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood has as much right to rewrite William Shakespeare as any recent pretender (Jo Nesbø, Jeanette Winterson and so on). Like the Bard, Atwood is possessed of a magpie imagination that in her case fixes upon science fiction, high literature, poetry, feminism, nature and politics. She might also have special claims upon The Tempest, one of Shakespeare’s troublesome late plays. Atwood doesn’t mess about, resetting the play like an expert doctor mending a broken limb, firstly in the theatre, and, later, a prison. Linking these institutions is theatre director Felix Phillips and The Tempest itself. Initially the play offers a form of grief counselling, after the tragic death of Felix’s daughter, named Miranda, as in the original Shakespeare work. Later, it is revenge, after Felix’s conniving assistant, Tony, ousts him from the company he created. Felix now works with inmates more familiar with early Metallica than late Shakespeare. But in exile comes inspiration and redemption – or, at least, liberation, as our modern Prospero bonds with a whole gang of Calibans and Ariels. A thing of darkness.