Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble’s production of Tempest was launched on a rainy Friday night in the Roma Street Parklands: A fitting setting for a play set in an extreme weather event. A stunning cast, a creative production and a magic setting had the audience laughing and engaged in a way that Shaespeare often fails to deliver to modern audiences.
The combination of an outdoor venue, modern music and a big dosde of irreverence brought the text to life in a way that had me going back to my Compleat Works to check what I had been missing all these years.
Zac Kelty’s Caliban creeping out of the shadows and among our feet still chills days after seeing the production. Rebecca Murphy as Ariel is as bewitching and enticing as old Will could ‘ere imagined and Johancée Theron as Miranda brings us directly into the relationship with Prospero, the island and its challenges that is as remarkable as the words that make it possible.
The undoubted star of the show, though, is Rob Pensalfini in the lead role, Prospero. Without declaiming too much, or dominating with his enormous presence all the time, he leads us through the wiles and whims of a powerful man hanging on however desparately to his last shreds of glory. As does the character himself, Pensalfini draws on all the rich talents at his disposal to enchant us to support him in his quest to regain nobility from his fallen position.
The Napolitans provide much needed light and contrast to the intensity of all that and there is great character acting from the rest of the cast.
The music is a remarkable insertion. The use of modern and folk music creates a decidedly Elizabethan engagement. The desire to sing along and catcall is exacerbated by the audience in the round set up. If you make one of the final performances this weekend you will be sitting on the stage of the Roma Street Parklands ampitheatre with the action sprawled across the ampitheatre proper and the stage itself.
The cast members are the musicians as well and entertain during intermission while chatting to friends, family and guests. It is a startling, warm and friendly production.
Director Zoe Tuffin has pulled off the remarkable feat of putting the bawd back into the bard without belittling the text.