Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Nov 15 – Dec 17, 2022
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Kip Williams
Cast: Peter Carroll, Jason Chong, Chantelle Jamieson, Mandy McElhinney, Shiv Palekar, Richard Roxburgh, Claude Scott-Mitchell, Guy Simon, Aaron Tsindos, Megan Wilding, Susie Youssef
Images by Daniel Boud
Prospero’s story of exile, in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, can easily serve as parable, for the history of white immigration to these lands we now call Australia. There is a stark and perverse contrast however, between Propsero’s determination to seek revenge, and white Australia’s general deference to those who had discarded them. What we do find analogous, is the cruel treatment of antecedent inhabitants. Caliban was born on the island, long before Prospero’s recent arrival, yet is being enslaved by the latter, who seems only able to think of himself as superior and entitled.
In Kip Williams’ abridged and delicately modernised version, we feel the air inside the auditorium seizing up, whenever Caliban takes centre stage to present his view of the world, and indeed to plead for justice. Performed by Birripi/Worimi actor Guy Simon, Caliban becomes the only character we can truly care about. Simon raises the stakes so high, with a portrayal unforgettable for its blistering intensity and scathing honesty, that we leave The Tempest with an entirely reinvented understanding of this otherwise archaic text.
Richard Roxburgh plays Prospero with an elegant strength, understated but replete with impressive gravity. The dainty but powerful spirit, Ariel is beautifully depicted by Peter Carroll, who brings grace and humour, along with unflappable conviction, to deliver a crucial element of ethereality to the show.
Set design by Jacob Nash is deceptively simple, with a generously sized boulder anchored in the middle of a revolve. The gradual revelations of special effects over the course of the production, demonstrates a deep knowledge of the relationship between audience and imagery. Likewise, with Nick Schlieper’s magical lights, we are expertly coaxed into believing that storms are raging and fairies are taking flight, when in fact it is all just smoke and mirrors. Elizabeth Gadsby’s costumes offer a rustic interpretation that appeals to those with a taste, for something more realistic and unassuming. Sound and music by Stefan Gregory construct a fantasy realm, into which we can luxuriate in Shakespeare’s brand of supernatural drama.
It is liberating to see Prospero in a new light, not only as victim, but also aggressor, after knowing The Tempest for a lifetime. The truth that hides in plain sight, implies a nefarious collusion that must be present, in order that lies may take hold. Regarding the rightful custodians of these lands, and those far and wide, entire canons are awaiting re-examination, should our claims of wishing to be democratic and just, are of any veracity.