Theatre review: The Tempest

TheatreiNQ produces a show that was 'the stuff dreams are made of.'

This is a somewhat difficult play to categorise. It is not a comedy (though it has many comic  elements) but like traditional comedy, it has a happy final resolution. It is not a drama in the traditional sense of the word (though it has many dramatic elements) and it does not have a bloody finale.  

Instead, The Tempest sits in a never-never land area between these two theatrical poles. Consequently, I am sure the play is approached with some uncertainty not only from a director’s perspective but also from the audience and the potential critic. Unlike A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, which also delves into the world of magic, I suspect it is this very uncertainty that contributes to the fact that the play does not receive as many regular airings. 

But I need not have worried given the track-record of this extraordinary Townsville company – particularly in the presentation of its annual outdoor Shakespeare productions. Ultimately, it was a production that – as the play itself suggests – was ‘the stuff dreams are made of.’  

What makes these productions so special? Artistic Director of the company, Terri Brabon, roots her work in a constant search for emotional truth and, along with a deep respect for text, this underscores every production she tackles. That search does not elude her and by the time each production sees the light of day, each one is infused with ‘the Brabon touch.’ 

Each production – particularly the Shakespearean ones – are given an unusual treatment where a special world is created. That ‘world’ receives the best production values that an unfunded company can offer. It begins with an outstanding set design; it is costumed tastefully with a palette of colours (in this case cream, gold, beige and brown); it is staged with flair and delivered by an ensemble of disciplined actors. What is more, it again proves the point that one can produce high quality theatre in a regional area and tailor the suit according to the cloth.  

Thought to have been Shakespeare’s last plays, as with all his comedies, The Tempest has a happy resolution at the end from a convoluted plot involving a number of characters.

Exploring themes of magic, betrayal, revenge, power and family, it is set on a remote island where an exiled noble (now sorcerer) Prospero lives with his daughter, Miranda, and two servants – the monster Caliban and the spirit, Ariel. Prospero conjures a storm which results in a shipwreck that entraps the King of Naples and Prospero’s treacherous brother, Antonio. 

If one were to stick to original script, there is only one female role in the play – Miranda, played here with great spirit by Rosalili Ford. However, in this production Brabon has feminised many of the roles. Instead of the King Alonso of Naples, we have Queen Alonsa, played with formidable relish by Anna Vella-Sams. Sebastian has become Sebastiane, played with waspish delight by Victoria Fowler. The court jester, Trinculo, has also become the bawdy wench Trincula, played broadly by Arminelle Fleming. She forms a double act with John Goodson as Stephano, and the pair provide much of lewd humour that always characterises Shakespeare’s comedies. 

Prospero is played by Brendan O’Connor, whose commanding presence and stage experience lent itself well to a character that it is difficult to like and empathise with. The rightful Duke of Milan, Prospero has been usurped by his ambitious brother, and since his exile on the island has learnt and used sorcery to protect himself and his daughter and control the other characters. Thought we know he is a wronged man, we find it hard to like him because of his actions, which dictate the entire plot.

Lachlan Stevenson is an actor who is one of TheatreiNQ’s success stories. He trained with the company’s Bridge Project, a model that develops emerging professionals and prepares regional talent for highly competitive tertiary education. He has continued his association with TheatreiNQ by returning as a guest professional actor, and created a major impression earlier this year in Orphans. At times his Caliban seemed reptilian while at others, his physicality was amphibious. 

Young Emma Smith has cut her teeth in youthful appearances with TheatreiNQ, and she gives a  groundedness to the otherwise ethereal Ariel. Robert Street played Gonzalo as a spindly, arthritic old gent, and Lisandro Garcia a dashing Ferdinand.  

Read: Dance review: Goldberg Variations

In addition to directing this production, Brabon has also composed new music and lyrics ranging from a sea shanty to a drunken chorus to several songs performed by seven other-worldly spirits who accompanied Ariel. The inclusion of these harmonising maidens produced a dimension that added to the overall enchanting quality of the production. 

The Tempest by William Shakespeare 
A TheatreiNQ production
Queen’s Gardens, Townsville  
Adapted and directed by Terri Brabon 
Costumes: Kathy Brabon
Set: Brendan O’Connor

Tickets: $33-$36

The Tempest will be performed until 25 September 2022. 

Trevor Keeling has been involved in the arts and creative industries for 40 years in Australia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. He has been an actor, theatre director, journalist and critic, publisher, broadcaster, music festival director, event manager and arts administrator. Since coming to Australia in 1991, he appeared in numerous productions in Adelaide, and was Festival Director of the Glenelg Jazz Festival for six years. He was General Manager of Dancenorth in Townsville (2005-2006 and 2011-2014) and for three years was CEO of Mirndiyan Gunana Aboriginal Corporation, which included managing the world-renowned Indigenous Mornington Island Dancers. He has worked in urban, regional and remote environments in Australia and has a particular focus on regional arts and the connection to community.