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CLARITY AMID THE MURK

Print Version

Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2013
THE TEMPEST
by William Shakespeare
directed by Katie Hansen
presented by Slip of the Tongue

at Coxhead Flat, Hamilton
From 18 Feb 2013 to 24 Feb 2013
[2 hrs]

Reviewed by Gail Pittaway, 22 Feb 2013


Coxhead Flat, on the banks of the Waikato River, is a perfect island-like setting for the story of Prospero, the deposed duke turned eco magician – perhaps a source for our own Prince Charles's preoccupations?

Directed by Katie Hansen, the play begins with a shipwreck and ends with a planned journey, and the opening scene – the tempest itself – is particularly fetchingly choreographed with actors on a large billowing sheet with a gloriously gilded ship's figurehead leading the movement, accompanied by suitably crashing sounds from the live band.

Slip of the Tongue Theatre first performed this most symbolic and complicated Shakespeare play back in 1989. How were they to know they had created something rich and strange: an arts festival?  This now huge not-for-profit event, which takes over two weeks in February, has grown up around the core ‘free, Shakespeare in the gardens' concept. 

Repeating his 1989 role as Prospero is Alec Forbes, who also directed the first production and always delivers a purist's Shakespeare. Every word of the text is played and made clear, despite the murky elements of play within play and magic working against deception that audiences have traditionally found difficult. Yet this Prospero is also playful, even light on his feet, although costumed less flamboyantly than the other characters.

The costumes, apart from Prospero's functional working garb, are steam punk – very cute and quirky – and these, with embellishments of character and makeup, and the charming meandering music, all add to the pleasurable spectacle of this production.

The casting has some interesting and arresting features. The part of Ariel the helpful sprite/ servant is split between three performers and makes more possible some of the spells and webs ordered by the demanding master. The three work beautifully together to tie in the webs of plot and spell. 

In terms of the plot, the scheming of Antonio and Sebastian (here a very glamorous Sebastienne) is made extremely clear, as is the shame and grief that Alonso, the current king of Milan, feels for having allowed the treason against Prospero.

Prospero's daughter Miranda and newly shipwrecked Ferdinand are charming as the new world Adam and Eve while Caliban is huge and menacing and yet so innocent.

The masques and mirages of the last act are always problematic and here they have been developed into an opportunity for some fine dancing, a little projection from a magic lantern, and a most imaginative feast hung from fishing lines. Of those who don't know the play, most will not know why it happened but all will remember that it did provide such spectacle and so well!

One criticism is that the music could be louder; it has been so carefully devised it is a pity for it to not be heard more clearly by the furthest-placed audience members.  Also, Trinculo and Stephano the drunken sailors are a pure comic turn, although their scenes take up too much time in an already long production (at nearly three hours).

That said, this is a free event, and the audiences can – and do – come and go as they choose.
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See also reviews by:
 Mark Houlahan