University of Adelaide Theatre Guild. Little Theatre, University of Adelaide. 24 Mar 2023
Director Bronwyn Palmer’s production excitingly opens with Shakespeare’s ship-sinking storm scene represented with creative stagecraft that puts you at the centre of the action. Making a prow with two lengths of cloth is brilliant. Twelve years earlier, Prospero’s brother Antonio usurped Prospero for his dukedom and guess who’s luckily on the ship? The sorcerer Prospero conjured the tempest and ensured that everyone one on board is marooned on his island so he can right some wrongs with forgiveness and a dynastic plan.
Palmer, the director and set designer, plays with anachronisms in many aspects. The island is represented by a sand spit surrounded by shore waves and fishing nets adorned with the flotsam and jetsam of modernity. A great look that doesn’t have any further role in the narrative. The creative constructions just kept on coming, like Caliban’s cave. Prospero is aided in his mischief by the fairy Ariel and the monstrous Caliban. As well as most of the cast, they look terrific in bespoke costumery (costume design – Palmer and Emily Dalziel). And again like many others in the mainly young cast, Finty McBain and John Charles manifest their theatrical training with fetching expressions and physical movement (movement coach and choreography – Ella McKinnon). Original music and chants by composer Nicholas Cannon adds a lot to the witchcraft. Theatre magic is liberally sprinkled about like confetti by Palmer.
Prospero, of course, is a central role but its potential is not realised. Jack Robins looks like a retired professor beachcombing in Bali just after a meditation lesson including a debris-laden bandolier. More normalcy than wizardry. His enunciation of Shakespeare’s syllables and emotional veracity fell short. The main narrative event is the young love between Prospero’s daughter Miranda and the son of Antonio’s ally, Ferdinand. Ellie Schaefer conveyed all the wonder of first lust and love heightened by having never seen another human being before (besides Dad). Her wide-open enthusiasm is absolutely captivating. Another actor-in-training, Theodoros Papazis is an ideal Ferdinand blessed with gorgeous youth.
The highly experienced Bronwyn Ruciak as Alonso gives an acting lesson to the neophytes. Her constant engagement and expressive understanding are eye candy. Emily Dalziel and Annie Matsouliadis, as the clowning relief, are fabulous as a twosome and in threesome with Charles’s Caliban, their physical work was hilarious and ridiculous. Bogan accents, speech patterns and costume decorated their Shakespeare in a completely unique way. They deserve all the time on stage that they got for their sub-plotting. Antonio and Sebastian played by Susan Cilento and Harry Ollerenshaw were matched in their menace and as sharp as their bodkins.
The relationships of the numerous relevant characters are even more difficult to fathom by gender- and age-blind casting. Due to various appellations, was Alonso actually Ferdinand’s mother or father? Male roles are all of feminised, satirised with man-splaining, or simply played by women in men’s clothing. That adds interest but more discombobulating is that Antonio and Sebastian are the same generation as Prospero, Gonzalo and Alonso, but the actors are next gen. The costumes kept coming but the lighting did not; near the end there was more light on the audience than the stage (lighting design – Stephen Dean).
The whole here is not greater than the parts due to a few laggard elements but at its best, this The Tempest is tempting to attend for what works well.
When: 26 Mar to 1 Apr
Where: Little Theatre