IRREVERENT ADAPTION CUTS TO AN ESSENCE
A TEMPEST OFF MATIU-SOMES ISLAND
by William Shakespeare and Bard Productions
directed by Paul Stephanus
at Matiu_Somes Island-meet at Queens Wharf, Wellington
From 7 Feb 2013 to 16 Feb 2013
[Thur, Fri, Sat only]
Reviewed by John Smythe, 8 Feb 2013
On as balmy a summer night as Wellington has ever produced, the cast aboard the East-West Ferry have trouble convincing us we have been hit by a terrible tempest and are in mortal danger. But we get the idea and play along.
Later it emerges we were aboard a boat that had been chartered by Stephano, the Dean of Victoria University, and Prospero, the brother he usurped, has used his magical powers – through the agency of spritely spirit Ariel – to stir up the storm and bring his miscreant brother to account.
Those familiar with Shakespeare's The Tempest will realise this Stephano is a conflation of Alonso, King of Naples; Antonio, King of Milan and brother of Prospero; and Alonso's butler Stephano. So Alonso's son, Ferdinand, now becomes Stephano's son. Trincolo, originally Alonso's jester, is still out to help Stephano become king of this island, although in the original that was Stephano the butler, not the king of Milan now morphed into the Dean of Victoria. Clear?
Our arrival on Matiu-Somes Island is silently observed by a beautifully body-painted Ariel (makeup artists Hayley Marlow and Maz Mace). Once briefed by amiable DOC staff, we trek upward through beautiful bush at dusk to the Quarantine Station in the wake of Stephano, Ferdinand, Trinculo and the Boatswain, who has ostensibly navigated us through the ‘storm' to relative safety on this isle.
It is the Boatwain (Mike Ness, fresh from playing Comminius the Consul of Corioles in Coriolanus), who installs us down one side of a very long room, facing the pens once used to quarantine exotic fauna. Here a pensive Prospero awaits the inevitable eruption of his naïve daughter Miranda at the sudden arrival of all these strange creatures.
Scott Ransom opts for being the still centre of the turmoil his Prospero has set in motion while Claire O'Loughlin delights in fully expressing Miranda's fear-tinged excitement at seeing humans who are not her father, or herself in a mirror. She was three, after all, when they were expelled from Wellington.
Miranda's unalloyed attraction to Jordan Rivers' likewise innocent yet obviously intelligent Ferdinand and their blossoming love, are a delight to behold.
Erin Howell's Ariel is majestically spritely and poignantly devoted to Prospero despite desiring her liberty. She presides over mischief with focused pleasure.
Also clad in body paint and a rough skin costume from which pustules erupt (costume & set design: Helle Rosenberg and Olive Moynihan), Matt Clayton finds an affecting pathos in the so-called savage, Caliban.
We repair to a courtyard – also surreptitiously lit by Marcus McShane – for the drunken shenanigans that precede the come-uppance in store for Stephano, well accounted for by Giles McNeil.
Wiremu Tuhiwai takes the most wicked textual liberties as Trinculo, provoking all the laughs he should as the opinionated clown. And the status games between these dubious men when Caliban aligns with them are well pitched.
I cannot say, however, that there ever seemed to be any credible threat to Prospero's life from this trio, which weakens the imperatives driving the plot somewhat.
Nevertheless, as directed by Paul Stephanus with a light but sure touch, this irreverent adaption cuts to the essence of a tale wherein the supposed superiority of class-infected ‘civilisation' is exposed by natural – and supernatural – forces.
While Ariel represents natural energy corralled into the service of man, Caliban resonates as an indigene subjugated by colonisers. The backstory of his attempted rape of Miranda, in order to people the isle with his progeny, remains and gives valid substance to the antipathy she and her father feel towards him.
But at the end – in a departure from the original – in the process of giving Caliban his liberty, Prospero seems to give “this misshapen knave” the opportunity to take his revenge for the servitude he has been subjected to. Through having the choice Caliban chooses not to hurt Prospero; through offering the choice, Prospero liberates himself as well. I think they have drawn on Prospero's epilogue for the self-effacing dialogue here.
Then for an epilogue Propsero offers what used to end the now off-stage wedding scene: “Our revels now are ended … We are such stuff / As dreams are made on.” Clever.
While A Tempest Off Matiu-Somes Island may seem like a frolic at the fringes of Shakespeare's complex drama, it leaves me feeling Bard Productions have extracted a through-provoking essence from that storm's centre.
As a bonus, we get to enjoy a truly magical stroll back down the hill under a crisply starlit sky with a sparkling view Wellington, Petone, the Hutt valley and Eastbourne. Happy, then, to relegate the titular tempest to our imaginations.
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