In the final semester of 2009, Sydney Theatre School has taken on the battle of the bard with a double bill ofTwelfth Night and The Tempest from graduating students.
The Tempest is Shakespeare’s ‘unclassifiable’ play, its only classification being of course that it’s a Shakespeare. As such, it comprises elements of all the genres that he commanded, it is in equal parts a comedy and a tragedy and of course it wouldn’t be a Shakespeare without its magic and forces of nature and highly thematic man versus nature.
Well, I say man versus nature, I do of course mean woman versus nature! In this telling of the tale many of the male roles are changed to female (perhaps owing to the female student base?), but this is a technique which sits well and works nicely. It also offers some nice relationships between characters that you perhaps wouldn’t otherwise achieve - such as the physical affection between Prospero (Michelle Cameron) and her daughter, Miranda (Courtney Lemmerman).
While we’re talking conventions, director Malcolm Frawley is faced with the challenge of sprites and nymphs who enter and exit (or rather appear and disappear) without satisfactory notice of either - so to combat this crisis of stage direction he employs masks to flag up a character's ‘magical’ presence. This is simple and subtle theatre making and it works.
The set is kept simple, reduced to two large tie-dyed pieces of fabric suspended from the ceiling which, when manipulated by the sprite Ariel change the shape of the physical space to a new location; again this emphasises the magic and nature elements that Shakespeare was so fond of.
So, to performances now, and there was not a student on that stage who did not posses some potential or aptitude for character, or the range to perform Shakespeare. A play of this kind requires heightened without farcical characterisation and each cast member presented characters that were distinguishable and enjoyable to watch. Heightened indeed (in a good way, obviously) was Arisa Yura’s anarchic and child like Ariel, the sprite and servant to Prospero. Other performances of note were from Michelle Cameron’s Prospero and Gavin Williams’ cowering, whimpering, simpering Caliban - perhaps the most comically pathetic character in Shakespeare’s back catalogue!
Aside from the thematic concerns of making magic seem plausible and other theatrical vices, this is just simply a difficult play to co-ordinate with 14 cast members and a number of disparate storylines that don’t meet until play’s end, where (in true Shakespearian fashion) ALL cast members are required on stage. This is a directorial challenge I wish not for! But the physical direction was just and aesthetically interesting and kept the story ticking over. The, pace too, was appropriate to the story and the lilt of Shakespeare’s lyrical brogue.
Aaron Noakes provided a very simple sound scape that played subtly throughout and blended wind pipes with waves to provide an evocative musical backdrop to the production.
If I’m honest, this isn’t my favourite of Shakespeare’s children. I find it confused and shambolic, but the production itself was far from tempestuous, its ensemble stepped up to the plate and provided mature and engaging performances. Please you, draw near!
Sydney Theatre School presents
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Malcolm Frawley
Venue: The Sidetrack Theatre | 142 Addison Rd Marrickville
Dates/Times: November 4 & 6 at 7.30pm plus November 8 at 4pm
Tickets: $25 Full $20 Concession (booking fees apply)
Bookings: 02 9550 3666 or www.sidetrack.com.au