REVIEW: The Tempest

Townsville Grammar School's The Tempest runs until 24 August 2019. PHOTO: Marion MacKenzie

The magic of theatre is an old one. Passed from Ancient Greece through generations, across oceans, over language barriers, under many eyes and hands, and despite endless human differences; it persists.

That’s what makes a show like Townsville Grammar School’s The Tempest such a rewarding audience experience.

Last night’s opening of The Tempest revealed this to be a quasi-contemporary adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s final plays, and the highly polished production and sheer enjoyment emanating from the cast made it obvious that this was yet another group of young people who have fallen under theatre’s spell and, perhaps, added a little of their own magic to the mix along the way.

The Tempest follows Prospero former Duke of Milan who, after being usurped by his sister Antonia is banished from Naples by King Alonso. Twelve years on, Prospero hears that The King and Antonia are sailing past his island home and with the help of Ariel (a spirit of the air who is in Prospero’s faithful servitude), Prospero conjures  up a powerful Tempest that shipwrecks the dastardly crew on his island. Among those shipwrecked are the King’s son Prince Ferdinand, Trinculo the Jester and Stephana the drunken cook. Naturally, Ferdinand falls in love with Prospero’s beautiful daughter Miranda; while the cook and the Jester hatch a plan to kill Prospero and take their island as their own.

Like many of Shakespeare’s plays – it gets a little complex.

However, there is no shortage of action nor comedy, which ensures the audiences sticks with the story rather than being lost in confusion.

Caliban is tortured by the hellhounds in Townsville Grammar’s The Tempest. PHOTO: Marion MacKenzie

Leading Grammar’s enormous cast is a band of talented, and highly promising fresh faces. As vengeful Prospero, Lewis Warrington has a strong, commanding presence. Lewis gave us a great performance as a firm but fair father who has lost everything but his dear daughter; and he made it easy for us to understand why Prospero would be so willing to risk the lives of everyone aboard the ship after years of stewing in his anger.

Lewis was well-matched by Tin Pham who played the Spirit of the Air, Ariel. Tin’s performance was absolutely captivating, and, with his spritely form and springy step, he was quick to convince us that he may well be some otherworldly being. This was a highly physical role – I imagine Tin was working as hard offstage as he was on with so many quick appearances – and this actor didn’t miss a beat.

Laughter abounded from the comic trio of Trinculo (Lachlan Carey); Stephana (Lauren Fisher); and the oft-scorned, half-human, half-dragon Caliban (Patrick Hill). The three provided fabulous comic relief from the evil plotting of other characters; and were innately fun to watch. While they did suffer a few forgotten lines and missing props, their ability to think on their feet and improvise while staying in character meant that none of the entertainment value was lost while they skilfully got the show back on track. I commend Lachlan, Lauren and Patrick for keeping so cool under pressure that could make any actor crack.

Laughter abounds from Stephana, Caliban and Trinculo. PHOTO: Marion MacKenzie

As the young lovers Ferdinand and Miranda, Oscar Dohnalek and Macey Bennett brought innocence and optimism to an island that really needed it! Oscar and Macey played off one another brilliantly and I thoroughly enjoyed their duets, Macey’s incredible voice, and Oscar’s knack for comedic timing.

Rounding out the leads were Sarah Hultgren as the scheming and ambitious Antonia; Sean Karlsbakk as the misguided King Alonso; and Ben Cocklin as the cunning and cowardly Sebastian. All three were as loathsome as you would expect the ‘bad guys’ to be and I’m sure they had great fun doing it.

The rest of the ensemble worked incredibly hard to bring the magic of theatre to life. And between the many different characters types they took on – including demons, hellhounds, insects, sea creatures, mythical creatures, nymphs, and people of Milan – and some imaginative stage ninja-ing, they really had their work cut out for them!

The entire cast was adorned with some of the most incredible costuming I’ve seen anywhere, ever. A special mention is really deserved by Artistic Director Fiona Perry, Costume Designer and Props Manager Jenni Ansic and the make-up team comprising Kelly McBean, Rachel Baumiester and Katie Watson.

But what I loved most about this production is the many ways in which the Production Team has worked to ensure every student who wanted to be involved had an opportunity to shine in their own way – whether they were singing, dancing or acting on stage; contributing to the mostly-original soundtrack as a composer, technician or instrumentalist; or (I suspect) aiding with set design and construction, and the towering projection pieces used throughout the show. The presence of those contributors not on stage, was felt as strongly as those who were.

Costumes are a highlight in Townsville Grammar’s ‘The Tempest’ PHOTO: Marion MacKenzie

Of course, this is live theatre and things don’t always go to plan. However, most of the criticisms that I have of this show are the same that have plagued previous shows moved to the Townsville Entertainment Centre while the Civic Theatre is out of action:

  • The space is cavernous, making it difficult to perfect the sound mix
  • Sight lines make floor level action difficult to spot if it is too close to the audience. This was amplified in The Tempest by quite a lot of action happening on the stairs, and rather than drawing the audience in, it made for confusion as people wildly searched to discover the source of dialogue
  • The stage is so wide it hurts. Literally. We were seated on the far right and spent much of the show with our heads turned 90-degrees so that we could watch the action happening at the other end of the venue.

Again, this is no fault of the performers or production team and they had expected the Civic Theatre to be reopened in time for this production.

In the face of these difficulties, Townsville Grammar has weaved some spectacular magic, that must be seen to be believed (notice I’ve tried not to give too many specifics away?). There are so many little ‘wow’ moments in this show – from floating jellyfish and wild waves to beautiful Godesses with their long-drop gowns; Ariel ‘floating’ across the stage; the way the hellhounds move like real beasts; and so much more. The detail and direction that has gone into this is simply magical.

Townsville Grammar School will present The Tempest at the Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre until 24 August 2019. For session times and tickets, click here.

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  1. says: Gillian Mahy

    Great review! I totally agree – it was great and the costumes amazing.. well done to all the cast and crew and directors. Exactly how Shakespeare should be enjoyed!

  2. says: Liz Downes

    A well-deserved review for a truly wonderful production and performance! I attended the last night and had to pinch myself to remember I was watching a school production. Apart from a slight mishap with Trinculo’s microphone (which he overcame with the skill of a practiced jester!) it was flawless acting from start to finish – with breathtaking costuming and choreography, and sets and music that transported us to a magical but tempestuous world. This was so clearly a magnificent team effort from the whole cast, , all the production and backstage crew and of course never forgetting the musicians, so it feels unfair to single out individual actors since all the leads wore their roles like the proverbial gloves. But I have to say, Trinculo/Lachlan – you are a comic master. And Ariel/Tin – that energy and athleticism seemed born of air and light. I was doubled up with laughter one moment, had my heart in my mouth the next!

    This review rightly recognises the effort made by the school to involve so many of their students in this production, allowing as many as possible to experience the thrill, energy and camaraderie of live theatre – as well as learning how to work through the inevitable difficulties, low points or exhaustion to ensure that the show goes on! Well done indeed.

    On the subject of the venue, we were lucky to have seats pretty much dead centre and close to the stage and loved the experience of being so ‘up close and personal’ which I felt we would not have got at the Civic – but I did not realise the difficulties of those at the far right or left of the auditorium. I hope Sarah’s neck has un-cricked!

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