Theatre review: The Tempest, Sydney Theatre Company

A pared-back production after Kip WIlliams' previous screen-heavy theatre adaptations.

Richard Roxburgh commands as Prospero in this welcome return to Kip Williams’ minimalism. Without bells and whistles of former screen-leaning Williams’ productions, (The Picture of Dorian Gray and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) the cast of 11 are given the opportunity to shine on a stage of one barren rotating rock. 

The Tempest is often overlooked as one of Shakespeare’s finest later plays, yet the set design by Jacob Nash facilitates a versatile and dynamic platform metaphor, around which Indigenous dramaturg Shari Sebbens implements comedic and personable discourse and movement.

Arguably, The Tempest, (from which Aldous Huxley borrowed his title Brave New World), is the first serious anglophone play to deal with colonialism in the Jacobean era. This production tries to redress the problematic enslaved ‘savage’ Caliban, by casting Guy Simon, a Biripi/Womiri man, as the focus-pull, who is captivating whenever present. 

Williams is fast and loose with the text, often feeding lines from other Shakespearean plays into the actors’ mouths. While that might not be bothersome to many in the audience, the redaction of the original Prospero’s contemporaneous racism and the padding of scenes with lines from Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet is jarring to the discerning.

The love story between Ferdinand (Shiv Palekar), and Miranda (Claude Scott-Mitchell) – although both actors do extraordinarily well – seems like an afterthought. It is the clowns Trinculo (Susie Youssef) and Stephano (Aaron Tsindos) that steal the show from what is a somewhat awkward romantic comedy that does not fit neatly into Shakespeare’s canon. 

Ariel (Peter Carroll) is spectacular, the ethereal being imprisoned in a tree by Caliban’s mother, the maligned sorceress Sycorax. The gender-blind casting is perfect here where historically Ariel is often played by a woman, and Carroll gets to deliver the delightful: ‘Where the bee sucks, there suck I…’ a monologue commonly misattributed to Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Read: Theatre review: Oleanna, Space Theatre

The Tempest is dripping with alchemy about love and revenge for those looking for a modern take on a classic ‘Our revels now are ended.’

The Tempest, William Shakespeare
Sydney Theatre Company
Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney
Director: Kip Williams
Set Designer: Jacob Nash
Costume Designer: Elizabeth Gadsby
Lighting Designer: Nick Schlieper
Composer and Sound Designer: Stefan Gregory
Dramaturg: Shari Sebbens
Associate Director: Jessica Arthur
Fight and Movement Director: Nigel Poulton

Associate Fight and Movement Director: Tim Dashwood
Intimacy Coordinator: Chloë Dallimore
Voice and Text Coach: Charmian Gradwell

Tickets: from $61

The Tempest will be performed until 17 December 2022. 

Anna Westbrook is an interdisciplinary queer feminist storyteller, critic, creative producer, poet, and freelance educator, currently working on her second novel and a collection of essays. She has a PhD in writing from the University of New South Wales and is the author of Dark Fires Shall Burn.