Coxhead Flat, Hamilton

18/02/2013 - 24/02/2013

Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2013

Production Details

Usurped from his dukedom, Prospero has waited 12 years for the opportunity to right this injustice… and it just happens to come floating by. Join the shipwrecked King of Naples, Antonio the usurper and the rest of their travelling companions on the Island and see what magic and mischief ensues.

The Tempest is a tale of men and monsters, of magic, of trickery and of love.

Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight

Monday 18 – Thursday 21 February 2013 @ 7:30pm
Sunday, 24 February 2013 @ 4:00am
Coxhead Flats (if wet: Piazza)
Koha | BYO Seating
2 hours 

2 hrs

Spirit captured in steampunk style

Review by Mark Houlahan 24th Feb 2013

There is a special moment towards the end of the dawn performance of The Tempest. “To the elements be free,” says Prospero to the three-person Ariel. They skip in a spiral around each other, and disappear into the grove of trees. This time you really believe Ariel (Ariels here) will be freed.

It’s about 6.30am, and the grey light is filling the western sky. To the left, you can just see the swirling, ever moving Waikato River. At every bend a Taniwha, say the Tainui. In this context you could well believe the play was set on an isle full of noises, with strange creatures and even stranger humans.

I have seen dawn Shakespeares elsewhere: a terrific, combustible Henry V directed by Sam Truebridge set astride the Malone gates in Stratford, for example. So far as I know, only in Hamilton has an annual dawn performance attracted such a loyal following: around 300 turned out at 4am today. You can tell the regulars by the scale of their preparations. You need rugs, blankets, hot coffee and something to nibble on. Even in the drought, it gets a little chill by the river just before dawn. Some snuggle in sleeping bags, and come in their pajamas.

The Tempest is a perfect early morning play. Its action climaxes at 6 in the evening, so 6 in the morning is a lovely time to end. The language is full of things becoming clearer:
   …as the morning steals upon the night
   Melting the darkness, so their rising senses
   Begin to chase the ignorant fumes that mantle
   Their clearer reason.

The performance captures perfectly the spirit of a play so much taken up with casting the right spells, and then casting off. In this version, Prospero’s staff is a large spear-like piece of driftwood. When Prospero offers to break his staff, he casts it aside, and clearly resolves to only use his human powers in his next life.

Yet the production is not sentimental. The power exerted over children, servants, shipwrecked royalty is palpable and severe. In the role of Prospero Alec Forbes’s formidable articulation and freedom on stage is terrific to watch. Trinculo and Stephano are a fantastic drunken pair. They show clearly how desperate Caliban is. The trio also show the real disease of the magical island: everyone who lands on it seeks to own it and will stop at nothing – not even murder – to get their way. 

The steampunk themed costumes are inspired, for so much of steampunk turns the world of Victoria’s Empire upside down. The battered top hats, the buckled vests, the large and ludicrous weapons all bring the comedy and disease of power to life. The only thing missing is that the wafting dance of goddesses in Act 4 should surely have been a neo-gothic stomp of automatons.

There is an argument for leaving Shakespeare alone, and writing our own scripts. But when show is as lively as this, and the audience as responsive, you feel there is life yet in Shakespeare’s book. 


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Clarity amid the murk

Review by Gail Pittaway 22nd 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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