Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
No man is an island
The Tempest was the last play William Shakespeare ever wrote. With that in mind, it's understandable that he used it as a kind of vanity project: the main character, the powerful wizard Prospero, shares not a few things in common with Shakespeare himself, and when Prospero finally gives up his magic and bids the audience farewell, to some extent Shakespeare was speaking through him. It's a visually impressive play, full of magical servitors and strange apparitions, and for most of it Shakespeare keeps four different plot-lines up in the air at once.
Matt Scholten's production of The Tempest is running at the Guild Theatre in the University of Melbourne until the 19th of October. It's a big, ambitious attempt that makes no effort to cut down or modify the script for modern audiences. If you've never seen a Shakespeare play before, it might be worth flipping through the script before you go - but for those already familiar with The Tempest, Scholten puts on an absolute delight.
The opening scene - on the rolling deck of a ship, battered by the storm Prospero calls down - shows off some bold choices. The magical nature of the storm is represented by Prospero splashing about in a wading pool at centre stage and rocking a paper boat to and fro. It's a scene that could easily be rendered ridiculous, especially by a young student cast, but the impressively-bearded Tom Gutteridge pulls it off with genuine drama.
Shown here without beard.
Gutteridge's performance as Prospero is one of the stronger points of the production. He comes across as capricious but well-meaning; a bitter man, with perhaps a little too much power for his own good, but in the end kind-hearted. Some of the more dated lines, like Prospero's dire warnings of what will happen if his daughter and her husband-to-be have sex before marriage, are saved by his careful delivery. Likewise, Prospero's magical servant Ariel - played by Felicia King - is magnificently done. King's Ariel is fundamentally alien: she hops around the stage in strange leaping steps and sidles, staring deer-like at the humans around her. Ariel is the main demonstration of Prospero's magic we see, and it's largely thanks to King that Prospero comes across convincingly as a wizard.
However, it would feel like a very long play - two and a half hours, including a twenty minute interval - without the comic relief of Trinculo and Stephano, played by Jess Newman and Josiah Lulham. Newman plays Trinculo as a wheedling coward that evokes Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean, and Lulham's Stephano comes across as a slightly less impressive Jack Sparrow (right down to the touch of mascara). Newman and Lulham riff off each other well.
Unsurprisingly for such an ambitious production, there are a few mis-steps. For instance, the opening scene, with all its bluster and thunder, makes it impossible to hear the dialogue between the noblemen and the sailors. Even knowing what the lines are, it's hard to pick them out between the screaming and storm effects. Later on, the noblemen's swords turn out to be small pocket-knives which, while more modern and convenient, make it faintly ridiculous when they wave them at Prospero's spirits. However, these are minor complaints when set against everything else.
All in all, Scholten's The Tempest is a spectacle as well as a play. Between its dance scenes, musical interludes, and physical comedy, the two and a half hours passes very quickly. At $15 for a concession ticket and $25 for a full price ticket, it's worth seeing.