Presented by: Wellington Summer Shakespeare
Directed by: Megan Evans
Wellington Botanic Garden, 11th Feb 2023
Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson
Summer Shakespeare is an institution in the city and an annual highlight of our arts calendar. The Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington Season of The Tempest sees many a happy camper sprawled on The Dell lawn to enjoy an eco-ethical production of William Shakespeare’s tragicomedy that asks what maketh man a monster, and what maketh monster man.
The Tempest is set on an unnamed island, where the usurped Duke of Milan Prospero (James Bayliss) and his daughter Miranda (Tori Kelland) have taken refuge. Prospero has enslaved the island’s only other inhabitants: the half-fish, half-man Caliban (Rachel McLean) and a host of otherworldly beings commanded by the spirit Ariel (Maea Shepherd). When a storm sees Prospero’s brother Antonio (Tom Vassar) and other members of the Naples royal family shipwrecked on the island, Prospero seeks his revenge.
Shakespearean language can be hard to wrap your head around – even for someone who studied it! For me, the key to understanding the dialogue is in the vocal delivery of it, and it’s clear here that each cast member has a good grasp of their character’s intent. I want to give a particular shoutout to the imperial Bayliss; Shepherd, who has the most stunning singing voice; and the impassioned McLean for helping me to follow the action with the exceptional delivery of their lines. Another special mention to the hilarious Philip Nordt as the drunken butler Stephano and Anna Kate Sutherland as the jester Trinculo for the comedy gold they sprinkle into an already-sparkling sea of talent.
Megan Gladding’s production design makes for a magical viewing experience and works in harmony with Neal Barber’s lighting design, a treat to watch come to life and light as the sun goes down. Sarah Bell’s costume and wardrobe design is outstanding, particularly when it comes to Caliban’s floating fish head, which has a huge bearing on the way the audience relates to the character.
I did find the background spirit dancers a little distracting, but overall this was a totally absorbing production that gave me a much-needed break from reality – to an island far far away, where magic and mayhem reign supreme!