The production team for Humphrey's space-themed The TempestLuke Naylor-Perrott

The first time I was backstage in a theatre, I was a foetus. My mother had joined the costume department of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, having been deemed too huge to play Titania – a role that I undertook two decades later in my first year at Christ’s. 

She couldn’t get up on the stage in 1995. And, for the first time in my life, she couldn’t sit in the audience last year. That was probably the point that I realised my mother was dying. 

There has been a lot of talk about breast cancer over the last few weeks, with the Pink Week campaign being out in full force. I have my reservations about Pink Week – the infantalisation, sexualisation, inherently gendered discussion of a kind of cancer that can effect anyone, overt focus on prevention with little to no attention paid to cancer care. In particular, it is the funding discrepancies that upsets me. Breast cancer research and awareness receive a disproportionally huge number of donations, largely thanks to the fervour whipped up by these kinds of ‘pink’ events. There appears to be plenty of money to make giant boob costumes, but hospices and the like are struggling.  But even I can’t deny that it is good to see students mobilising for a good cause. It would just be nice if people could do it without going to a huge fancy ball. 

"I decided to direct The Tempest after a 3am conversation with my now assistant director Joe about how freaking cool The Tempest would be set in space"KIERAN TAM AND JAY PAREKH

So when my mum died, halfway through Michaelmas this year, and then when I returned to Cambridge two weeks later and decided to direct The Tempest after a 3am conversation with my now assistant director Joe about how freaking cool The Tempest would be set in space (yes, really), I decided to donate the money we made from the show to charity – a hospice charity. Though there was no way I’d be doing it during Pink Week. 

It turns out space is a rather divisive setting for Shakespeare – who knew? A particularly disgruntled parent at a recent college dinner informed me that my decision to change the setting and to choose a predominantly female cast (which in turn ‘prompted lesbianism’) made it ’not really The Tempest at all’. 

Ignoring for a moment the usual ‘Shakespeare was a man of the people’ and ‘you don’t really expect us to hire out a dozen authentic Elizabethan costumes do you’ arguments, the challenge of adapting the script as well as keeping the integrity of the story has been a really interesting one. Going through and changing all the ’King’s to ’Queen’s was tricky enough, without also scouring every huge lamentation about the sea to see if it was ‘too nautical’. Sadly, oceans and waves are a tricky concept in the vacuum of space, so instead the key link we have maintained between our new setting and Shakespeare’s original play is isolation. An uninhabited island far away from mainland, and a single ship in deep space have a lot in common. 

“My mum always complained that she hated The Tempest because Miranda was ‘such a drip’”

Key to this are the relationships between the characters. My mum always complained that she hated The Tempest because Miranda was ‘such a drip’, but our Miranda is the perfect contrast to a bitter, insecure Prospero; capable and practical, almost to a fault. Since casting Shakespeare with only one female character is, frankly, unacceptable, Miranda is joined by a whole host of diverse female characters: ruthless Antonia; hopelessly romantic Fernande; cold, cruel Ariel; dignified Alonsa; and bumbling drunken Trinculo. The entire show was cast completely gender blind for this reason – to ensure the focus was entirely on the essence of the characters, not on the genders of the actors. The result is mothers and daughters as well as fathers and daughters, female villains and female fools – and a bit of queer representation too. 

Overall I think both Shakespeare (probably) and my mother (definitely) would be quite proud of the unconventional nature of our show. Though mum always found sci-fi a bit dumb.

The final performance of The Tempest begins tonight at 7pm at Christ's New Court Theatre