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Storming adaptation of The Tempest from Margaret Atwood

Hag-Seed

by Margaret Atwood

(Penguin, £16.99)

As part of the Hogarth Shakespeare's retelling of the Bard's classics, Margaret Atwood has brought her own magical art to The Tempest. Hag-Seed follows a theatre director developing and delivering a version of the play in a prison theatre programme, while he himself is caught within a Tempest-like reality.

There are dramas within dramas and characters consumed by love and hate as they wrestle between fantasy and actuality. And when it comes to the staging Atwood, like Shakespeare, does just enough to keep the mind focused on the myriad possibilities of human relations.

In addition to retelling Prospero's story in a modern context and the original play being dramatised by the prison players, the reader also benefits from an analysis of the original play as part of the prisoners' study programme.

In less accomplished hands this symphony of activities would fail horribly but not in Atwood's. Hag-Seed enchants, endears and empowers. Seeing The Tempest through the cast of characters Atwood creates and the author's own overarching narrative gives the original play new life.

Nonchalantly,  Atwood continually disarms the reader while maintaining a welcome pace to a clear linear narrative which, layer upon layer, builds delicately, with its characters developed in depth where needed and superficially where not.

Underpinning that narrative, the novel talks of what it means to be human and the societies we create, the all-consuming obsessiveness of love and hatred, the inhumanities made possible in the pursuit of revenge and the cruelty of exploitation. And it even takes the time to imagine another world, free from oppression.

I'm not a great believer in reworking or reinterpreting anyone else's writing but now, after reading Atwood's novel, I am not so sure.

As Prospero says in Shakespeare's epilogue, it is our indulgence that sets him free, and so it is with Hag-Seed. Margaret Atwood's art did indeed enchant me.

Nicolas Lalaguna is the author of A Most Uncivil War.

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