Review | Black Swan’s ‘The Tempest’ blows you outta the water!

The Tempest | Octagon Theatre | Until 11th Dec | ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  

Opening Night of Black Swan’s The Tempest held an air of reconnection. As the evening hummed with conversation, the courtyard of the Octagon Theatre hosted a beautiful Welcome to Country to kick off the festivities.

This year the company is celebrating its 30th anniversary, the companies first production back in 1991 was a radical staging of Twelfth Night. To celebrate, at the start of the year, they asked their audience to nominate a Shakespearean work to be performed as their anniversary celebration. The winner was The Tempest, and this production sees them return to the theatre at the University of Western Australia where their journey began. 

Considered one of the last plays that Shakespeare wrote alone, you can be forgiven for not knowing the full story. However, you may have heard the famous line from Act 4 in some iteration: “We are such stuff as dreams are made of …”, The Tempest is a tragicomedy about magic, betrayal, revenge, and family.

After the first scene, which takes place on a ship at sea during a wild storm, the remaining story is then set on a remote and eerie island, where the sorcerer Prospero, a complex and contradictory character, lives with his daughter Miranda, and his two servants; Caliban – a savage, and child of Sycorax the Witch, and Ariel – the islands mischievous sprite.

Local theatre legend Humphrey Bower plays Prospero, Phoebe Sullivan is Miranda, while Will O’Mahony is Caliban and Pavan Kumar is Ariel.

The play starts with the entire cast, spread across the theatre, singing sea chanties. They embolden the audience, and soon everyone is being drawn into the eye of the storm that is the energy of The Tempest – containing music and songs that evoke the spirit of enchantment on the island.

It is not long before the audience realises that Prospero is the cause of the maelstrom which leaves the remaining cast stranded upon his island, with the aid of Ariel.

Shakespeare’s Olde English is hard to understand at first, for those who may be new to his works in action. However, with expect direction by Matt Edgerton (Director) and Libby Klysz (Associate Director), the casts reactions, tone, and movement transcribe the work into a modern context – allowing these ques and visuals to aid the audience in acclimatising to the language, and the iconic themes of regicide and true love.

Stephanie (Charlotte Otton), Sebastia (Teresa Jakovich), Antonia (Catherine Moore), and Trincula (Caroline McKenzie) provide interjections and scenes of comedy which hit home with the audience. The humour translated well and is relatable even in this modern age.

Pavan’s performance as Ariel is particularly striking, aided by cast and the lighting design team, that make his entrances both enchantments, mesmerising, and enthralling. His secondary place as composer for the production is such a powerful step, as the entire production utilises music, breath, and movement in such a sensory way, that to not cast him as Ariel would have been a mistake.

The Tempest utilises new percussion and string instruments that audiences may not recognise, alongside the didgeridoo played by Ian Wilkes, who also charms his way on stage as Prince Ferdinand, and pulling focus. The Tempest adds such a visceral fusion of sounds, and moments of musical theatre, that truly showcase the range of the cast in a neat ninety-minute production.

The cast move amidst the stage without ever interrupting the flow of the other, with artful staging and choreography. With so many strong features in theatre-making, The Tempest is truly a boast from the Black Swan Theatre Company, and a feather in the cap of every creative involved. If we were able to rate The Tempest higher than 5 stars, we would have!

Be sure to grab tickets before The Tempest is swallowed by the sea.

Joshua Haines, images – Daniel J Grant 

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