The Tempest

Hanover Hall, 65 Hanover St, Dunedin

13/06/2024 - 16/06/2024

Production Details


By William Shakespeare
Director: Blaise Barham
Musical Director (music): Sam Meikle
Musical Director (singing): Meko Ng

Sahara BreeZe (SBZ) Productions


A visually, aurally, and physically stunning multidisciplinary version of William Shakespeare’s fantastical play.

Award-winning Otago theatre company Sahara Breeze (SBZ) Productions will be staging William Shakespeare’s most fantastical play The Tempest, regarded as the most lyrical, profound, and magical of Shakespeare’s comedies.

Prospera, the exiled duke of Milan, has been stranded on a remote island with her daughter Miranda for 12 years. She uses her magical powers to conjure up a fearsome storm, so that her enemies, including her treacherous brother Antonio, are shipwrecked onto the island. There follows a play filled with murderous plots, drunken confusion, love, and redemption.

SBZ turns the former church building of Hanover Hall into Prospera’s enchanted island. Holding true to the original text and music, director Blaise Barham adds contemporary music, stunning costumes, and physical theatre to put a new contemporary spin on this classic, whilst further exploring themes of entrapment and forgiveness. With a performing cast of 25 actors, singers, dancers, and musicians, the spectacle of the piece is brought to the fore.

Venue: Hanover Hall, 65 Hanover Street. Dunedin

Dates and times: 13 June from 8pm, 14 June 1pm & 7.30pm, 15 June from 7.30pm & 16 June from 2.30pm 2024

Tickets ($15-$35) can be booked online at https://www.eventfinda.co.nz/2024/the-tempest-by-william-shakespeare/dunedin

Sahara BreeZe (SBZ) Productions (https://www.sbzproductions.com/) was founded in 2019 as a touring theatre company and has been based in Dunedin since 2021. Since then, it has produced multiple shows including Two by Jim Cartwright, Dracula the Bloody Truth by La Navette Bete, Wonderful by Richard Huber, Out at Sea by Slawomir Mrozek, The John Show by John Goudge, Shotglass Shorts Play Writing Competition, The Bear and The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov and has received multiple nominations and awards, most recently an ‘Outstanding Contribution to Dunedin Theatre’ award in 2024.
Refer reviews of previous productions: https://www.theatreview.org.nz/?s=sbz+productions


CAST in order of appearance:
Alonso: Don Townsend
Ferdinand: Jack Hanan
Sebastian: Thomas Makinson
Master/Adrian: Matthew Brennan
Boatswain/Francisco: Zac Henry
Gonzalo: Josh Black
Antonio: Chris Cook
Miranda: Elizabeth (Lizzie) Thomson
Prospera: Sarah Barham
Ariel (air): Sacha McConnon
Ariel (fire): William Larkins
Ariel (water): Alexander (Xandy) Julian
Trinculo: Brent Caldwell
Stephano: Aimee Freeman
Deities: Jay Bailey, Kelly Siu & Meko Ng.

A physical ensemble of mariners, nymphs, reapers and spirits played by:

Becky Hodson, Esther Smith, Hannah Davis, Imogen Duncan, Oliver McKeown, Rochelle Brophy & Stella Wispinski.

CREATIVE TEAM:
Director: Blaise Barham
Assistant Director: Kaiser Coles
Musical Director (music): Sam Meikle
Musical Director (singing): Meko Ng
Costume Design: Sofie Welvaert
Technical Design: Josh Wiegman
Physical Theatre Leader: Becky Hodson

CREW:
Production Manager: Linda Brewster
Stage Manager & Properties: Christine Wilson
Assistant Stage Manager: Sheena Townsend


Multi-discipline , Theatre ,


120 minutes

Pure delight

Review by Terry MacTavish 17th Jun 2024

The wildness of the elements is gloriously recreated right from the thrilling start of SBZ’s production of The Tempest, assisted by the sensation of being blown in by gusts of rain to lovely Hanover Hall. The last Tempest I reviewed was while we were being viciously lashed by Cyclone Gabrielle – today’s mere Strong Rain Warning is less distressing, more exhilarating, and the warm welcome within is pure delight, as we are assured the weather will be fine for our voyage, given origami ships and butterflies to flutter, glossy programmes, live music and cheery sailors urging us to sing along with jolly sea shanties, including Otago’s own Wellerman, as irresistibly foot-tapping as Cotton-Eyed Joe.

“We’ll be worn out before it starts,’ chuckles my companion, but the frolic is worth it, with peerless comedian Brent Caldwell, in outrageous punk-clown gear, wickedly ad-libbing, enticing the excited sell-out crowd to clap, stomp, chant and Mexican wave in wild party mode, a perfect lead-up to the magical tempest and consequent shipwreck on Prospero’s enchanted isle. 

SBZ Productions, honoured at the last Otepoti Dunedin Theatre Awards for their outstanding contribution to local theatre, have gained a reputation for innovative, daring work, uniting a wide range of experienced creative artists and many different theatre forms in every available space. This may be their most successful combination of play and venue ever, more apt even than Cherry Orchard in the Mayfair. The Tempest is a captivating, magical comedy with opportunities for music and dance, but this production ensures we wrestle with darker themes of power, colonisation, sin, punishment and redemption.

Seasoned director Blaise Barham is in love with theatre, playful and adventurous in his choices, evidently well able to inspire and enthuse the large company – over thirty! – all of whom are clearly invested in his vision, and on-board his ship. The scale of this production, combined with Barham’s thorough research and valid interpretation of The Tempest, has encouraged the company to offer a popular Schools’ Matinee, providing also an excellent educational study-pack, the like of which has not been seen since the lamented demise of the Fortune. 

A real coup of Barham’s was engaging award-winning designer Sofie Welvaert to create the costumes, which are simply breath-taking, from the cunning dip-dyed sleeves of the Lords to the fantastical spirits in emerald, sapphire and ruby, to the grandiose golden Goddess attire for Ceres (Meko Ng). Make-up, hair, lighting, and fog effects all enhance the gorgeous costumes, with too many in the fine technical team to name, ditto the lively Physical Theatre ensemble, though especial praise must be given to the young Musical Director, ridiculously talented Sam Meikle, who accompanies with both mysterious rippling piano and stirring drumbeat.

Hanover Hall provides terrific atmosphere, with its tangible spiritual heritage and glorious architecture, while modern technology allows brilliant lighting effects even against arched stained-glass windows. The traverse seating works a treat, sucking us right into the action, and if sometimes audibility is a problem, a spectacle play like The Tempest has compensatory potential, for Shakespeare’s last masterpiece was written when the Court Masque was all the rage in Jacobean theatre, interweaving art forms to create spectacular ostentatious display, and Barham has taken full advantage of this.

I’ve seen (and directed) many a Tempest, but I don’t think I have ever managed to hear the lines of the opening scene, because any director worth their salt naturally seizes the opportunity for marvellously noisy stage action and special effects. This is probably a good thing, as the language of the class battle between lords and sailors is very rude, to say the least – (“as leaky as an unstanched wench” indeed!!) while Gonzalo’s reasoning, that they are safe from drowning because the Boatswain’s horrible gallows-face means he is destined to be hung, hardly upholds the old lord’s saintly reputation.

No matter, the insults are apparent and we are so caught up in the splendid storm Barham, oops, magician Prospero/a has conjured, that words are redundant. Sarah Barham as Prospera, an impressive blue-haired figure in a fabulous high-collared gown, stands aloft in the nave of the refigured church, dominating the tempest created by the wild dancing of six quicksilver sprites, while white silk ribbons, the torn sails of the stricken vessel, stream from the gallery opposite the conjurer, and demented sailors (Zac Henry and Matthew Brennan cursing up a second storm!) stagger across the deck, frantically trying to force their noble passengers below deck. 

In the role of deposed Duke/Magician – now frequently and totally successfully played by women – Sarah Barham, grandly whipping up the storm to wreck her enemies on the magic isle, makes a majestic yet human Prospera. In what is a massive part with a cruel load of exposition, never doubt she can rise to declamatory heights when required, but I love details like her amused, cynical observation from the upper balcony, glass of wine in elegant hand, while her daughter Miranda succumbs to the charms of the first real man she has ever seen. 

As naïve Miranda, in a scalloped gown reminiscent of a white sea shell, Elizabeth Thomson is a totally convincing 15-year-old, while Jack Hanan, her shipwrecked Ferdinand, is the epitome of a noble prince, instantly identifiable, and their mutual infatuation consequently most entertaining.

In one of many juicy directing decisions, brilliantly backed by striking costume and make-up design, the role of magical spirit Ariel is shared between three elementals, Alexander Julian as Water, Sacha McConnon as Air, and Jack Hollis-Wilson as Fire, their stunning jewel-coloured costumes and headdresses shining against the subtle tie-dyed tones of the sprite-dancers. The Ariels provide much of the magic with their impressive singing, lyrical or rap, while they keep the performance space vividly alive along with the sea-sprites, even when the latter are frozen statues or zombies! 

Craig Storey as the monstrous Caliban, indigenous to the island but enslaved by Prospera, garbed in wondrously grotesque reptilian (or maybe amphibian?) style, has endowed his character with a Scottish accent – a nod to another dispossessed people, which splits our sympathies, given that he is the would-be rapist of innocent Miranda.

Brent Caldwell (jester Trinculo) and Aimee Freeman (butler Stephano) make a superb pairing as absurd clowns in wonderfully ridiculous outfits and fantastic circus make-up, Trinculo with spikey red-and-blue mohawk and huge ruff, drunkard Stephano in checked pants, tailcoat and tiny bowler. It is a particular pleasure to catch their every impeccably-projected word, and hence fully appreciate such Shakespearian gems as “Misery acquaints a man with strange bed-fellows”, not to mention that charming revenge-porn ditty about poor Kate, who scorned sex with sailors, “yet a tailor might scratch her where’er she did itch”!

Also a great comic double-act are the very funny Thomas Makinson and Chris Cook, who obviously adore bouncing off each other, physically and verbally, while making frivolous fun of Josh Black, a rather too youthful but dogged old Gonzalo. Their scheme to overthrow the King Alonso (a dignified Don Townsend), like Caliban’s clumsy revolt against Prospera, is likely to prove bootless given Prospera’s power, her “rough magic”. Besides, it’s a comedy. Even the drowned are safe, to “suffer a sea change into something rich and strange”.

Prospero’s epilogue (like Puck’s, Rosalind’s and all the rest) with its curiously Christian echo of “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” entreats our applause thus: “As you from crimes would pardoned be, Let your indulgence set me free.”  Freedom exists only through divine and human mercy, the very theme Shakespeare has stressed and Barham demonstrated so compellingly throughout. Given the aroha that shines out of this show, it is no surprise the applause is generous and genuinely enthusiastic.

The nice couple beside me, Theresa and Wayne, confide that this is their first Shakespeare, as they are not exactly theatre buffs, but so enjoyed the Globe’s recent 39 Steps that they decided to give the SBZ’s Tempest a try. They have absolutely loved it, and are now happy converts to live theatre. Congratulations and thanks, Barham and co, for your (sing it!) “rollicking randy-dandy show-oh!”

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