When: 2 - 11 December
Where: St Kilda Botanical Gardens
Written by: William Shakespeare
Directed by: Jennifer Sarah Dean
Musical Direction by: Ben Adams
Choreographed by: Camilla Cream
Performed by: Madeline Dunkley, Carly Ellis, Andrew Isles, May Jasper, Khisraw Jones, Victoria Mantynen, Jonathan Peck, Hunter Perske, Emma Louise Pursey, Mitch Ralston, John Reed, Paul Robertson, Charles Sturgeon, Jessica Tanner, and Lara Vocisano,
Costumes by: Rhiannon Irving
Stage Managed by: Gin Rosse
|Photo courtesy of Melbourne Shakespeare Company|
Watching this production was the first time I ever realised The Tempest is a comedy. Every production and remediation I have ever seen has been dark and gloomy and heavy. Watching the Melbourne Shakespeare Company prance and gesticulate their way through this tale seemed so right and natural, and had me wondering why it is not done more often by companies such as the Australian Shakespeare Company, It has all the fun and frolick of A Midsummer Night's Dream with somewhat more intelligibility!
The Tempest is a play about intrigue, betrayal, magic and love - and it begins with a shipwreck. What more could you want for a fantasy garden tale told in the early sunset hours?
Whilst the original play only has one female part - Miranda (played by Ellis) - Melbourne Shakespeare Company are presenting the play with almost equal numbers of men and women. I don't think this is a political statement as only minimal gender changes have been made to the script. I think it is more just a reflection of our times. It certainly does not hurt the play to do this. Pursey has all the power and gravitas Prospero needs, and Jasper (Stephano) is a very convincing comic drunkard indeed.
The men hold their own though and you will find it hard to find a funnier Trinculo than the one played by Peck. Ralston's Caliban is also excellent with a physicality which adds a great dynamic to the tableaus developed by Dean.
The Tempest is one of Shakespeare's most musical plays - a truth born out by the 46 or so operas which have been inspired by the play. This version indulges in the music without restraint, bringing a litany of pop medleys to amuse and delight. Some of them are a bit too long, but every song choice is amusing, which is completely in tune with the tone of the play. There is a lot of singing in this show and it gets quite pitchy, but there is no reinforcement so there is not much that can be done for that. A pitch pipe would help...
All of the design elements are fantastic. The costumes are truly fabulous, and Irving's work with Prospero and the Ariels is divine. Irving's background is in musicals and this shows in the dynamics and synergies she has created across the costumes of the entire ensemble.
Did you notice I said 'the Ariels'? There is not one, not two...but three of them! It is a really wonderful choice. Apart from echoing Shakespeares use of feminine triads (Macbeth, King Lear, etc), the number 3 is significant in The Tempest including the fact that the whole experience on the island is said to take place over only three hours. Whilst not quite a chorus in the Greek sense, it does allow Ariel to have greater agency in the large playing area and works with the idea of them as spirits of the island who are changeable and changing.
It also allows some fun individual interactions with other cast members and solves a myriad of complexities. It also gives them a strange connection to the natural world of the gardens themselves as they disappear into the surrounding foliage and then reappear at will, their movements echoing the swaying of the branches above.
Dean demonstrates a strong sense of visual aesthetics and knows how to move a large cast around a big space. This is a very physical production and whilst there are a lot of moments when timing is perfect, there are some group moments which are sloppy. Given the scope of this production and the fact they are a new ensemble this is not surprising though. As they work together more, they will develop the syncopation they are evidently aiming at.
Whilst patchy in parts this production of The Tempest is clever and a lot of fun. It is truly family friendly, being accessible to children but still weighted enough for adults to have fun.