REVIEW: The Tempest

THE Tempest opens with a ship's passengers and crew fighting a ferocious storm, with unearthly creatures they cannot see managing the chaos.

In the next scene, a quietly confident man on an island near the ship explains to his teenage daughter how he used magic to create the storm and bring ashore the sibling and a conspirator who unseated him as duke of Milan, then cast him and the infant girl adrift in a leaking boat.

The betrayed duke, Prospero, tells daughter Miranda that all on the ship will be safe.

But as they come ashore at different places it becomes clear that Prospero is using the magic he has learnt in his exile to help end the mental tempest imposed upon him.

The Tempest is one of William Shakespeare's most magical plays, smoothly combining comedy, drama, romance and fantasy.

And director Mat Lee, the actors and production team have made it engaging entertainment despite textual cuts that have limited the character development.

Lee has given the play a substantially contemporary setting, helping to validate his decision to change the sex of Prospero's treacherous sibling to a woman, Antonia.

He also has three actors as Prospero's mischievous sprite, Ariel, a choice which has the character physically everywhere on occasions and unsettling schemers through words and actions.

Dez Robertson is a regal Prospero, someone who has learnt through his errors and is now ready to see his daughter as the bride of Ferdinand, the son of Alonso, the king of Naples, who helped to depose him.

Georgia Hicks-Jones and Ben Stuart were charming as the young lovers on opening night (Hicks-Jones alternates in her role with Ellen Papanicolaou).

Andrea Bain, Phoebe Clark and Tegan Gow work well together as the sprightly Ariel, wearing identical costumes by Jennifer Ellicott and Zoe Jurd that suggest a blending of air, sea and land.

The costume designers have also added to the ill-ease created by Luke Jarvis as Caliban, the half-human, half-devil monster enslaved by Prospero after he tried to rape Miranda.

Jarvis's Caliban, wearing a leatherish jacket with spikes along the back, is unnervingly funny but increasingly sympathetic as he plots to kill Prospero.

There's dark humour, too, in the drunken behaviour of Caliban's shipwrecked conspirators Stephano (Jesse Alston) and Trinculo (Sarah Gordon).

The laughter is gentler for Sean Hixon's kilt-clad Gonzalo, the Neapolitan courtier who helped Prospero and Miranda to survive when they were put in the leaking boat.

The glances between Alexandra Rigby as Antonia (she alternates with Ella Burchmore) and Tom Lovat as Alonso's treacherous brother, Sebastian, showed them to be more than just conspirators, while the brooding silence of Hadrian Le Goff's Alonso indicated that the shipwreck experience might have shown him the error of his ways.

Mat Lee's set design, with stone stairs on either side of a cave, suggests both the desert nature of the island and the secrets it hides.

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