THE TEMPEST @ Octagon Theatre gets 9/10

The Tempest
@ Octagon Theatre

Wednesday, November 24, 2021


Black Swan Theatre Company’s production of The Tempest takes many risks and braves them all. In celebration of Black Swan Theatre’s 30th birthday, the company put out a public vote for its Shakespearean performance of its thirtieth anniversary season. Surprisingly, The Tempest beat out more conventional Shakespearean choices, such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet.

As Shakespeare’s final play, The Tempest combines tragedy and comedy to explore themes of colonialism, revenge, filial loyalty and circularity. The play focuses on Prospero (Humphrey Bower), a sorcerer living on a remote island with his daughter, Miranda, who uses magic to conjure a storm to torment the survivors of a shipwreck, including Prospero’s treacherous brother, Antonio. Like all Shakespearean plays, it includes the usual tropes: star-crossed lovers, lengthy soliloquies and a dash of humour.

The resulting production, directed by Matt Edgerton, is phenomenal. The space is well-utilised, the music is fitting and eerily beautiful, and performers move around the stage effortlessly. These movements are magical and otherworldly; and it is evident that the cast-members have worked closely with movement director, Sam Chester, to create motions that add to each scene. This is especially true for Pavan Kumar Hari, who plays Ariel and composes the accompanying music. Kumar Hari’s movements are light and fluid, almost as if a fairy with magical movements graces the stage.

Set designer, Zoe Atkinson, has transformed the Octagon Theatre into a circular ring of sand, backed with raised boxes overlooking the stage area. A regulated flow of sand trickles onto the stage from the ceiling for the entirety of the performance, reminiscent of the flow of sand within an hourglass. The performers utilise the onstage sand well: they let it run through their fingers, draw patterns, and leap through it. The stage design brings to mind a sand pit or a beach; a playful, almost childish setting with a gentle reminder of the continuous passage of time.

Standout performances include Pavan Kumar Hari as Ariel, Charlotte Otton and Caroline McKenzie in their roles as the gender-flipped Stephanie and Trincula. Kumar Hari’s performance and musical direction were otherworldly, transforming a lecture theatre into a magical dreamscape led by a ubiquitous air spirit. Otton’s interpretation of Stephanie, previously Stephano, as a drunk Melbourne Cup girl (fascinator, fancy dress and all) was particularly enjoyable. Other special mentions include Humphrey Bower as an imposingly paternal Prospero, and Phoebe Sullivan and Ian Wilkes as star-crossed lovers, Miranda and Ferdinand.

However, the production was not without its flaws. Whilst Will O’Mahony excelled as a lovesick Caliban, he was less convincing in the more ‘alpha-male’ role as the brutish Caliban.

Furthermore, within the famous marriage scene between Ferdinand and Miranda, the masque was presented as a sequence of pre-show interviews with audience members about love and marriage. In the Opening Night performance, this included same-sex and racially diverse couples, which were at times slightly tokenistic and performative. However, given the colonial themes explored and the blatant ‘Australianisation’ of this performance, this inclusion seemed somewhat fitting. This aside, The Tempest exceeded all expectations, epitomising the best aspects of the thirty years of performances by Black Swan Theatre Company.


Photos by Daniel J Grant

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