Sly Rat Theatre Presents THE TEMPEST

An enchanting event

By Margaret Wieringa

A small boat is wrecked in a magical tempest leaving the survivors to wander an island, guided by spirits and controlled by an ousted Italian noble. Sit back in your camping chair or spread out on your picnic rug; it’s time to be enchanted with some Shakespeare in the park.

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This is the second Shakespearean performance that Sly Rat Theatre Company have put on in Pipemakers Park in Maribrynong and it was again a thoroughly enjoyable evening. We are introduced to the island by Prospero (Brendan Ewing) as he shows the power of his magic, controlling everyone and everything including his daughter and the very spirits of the island. Ewing starts the performance loud and dominant, unfortunately leaving himself very little room to expand the performance. Consequently, we get a strong sense of the outrage and anger of Prospero, but it far more difficult to glean his softer and more complex side.

For this production, artistic directors Alan Chambers and Andy Harmsen have gender-swapped many of the characters (the original play has only one or, depending on the reading of Ariel, two females) and this leads to a completely different reading of some parts of the performance. The idea of women dominating the society that they have left through dishonesty and deceit, and of a man rising up to take his true place – it adds a new level. It also meant that the royals, all female, were young, angry warriors dressed in wild Mad-Max/steampunk costumes and dominating the stage. These costumes contrasted vastly from the island spirits in wispy veils with lots of softness. Unfortunately, many seemed to be wearing poorly-fitting dresses, and while it was clear that the actresses were wearing skin-coloured undergarments, the sense of wardrobe malfunction was somewhat distracting.

Possibly the most impressive costume would have had to have been Caliban, played by Seton Pollock in a beige lyrca suit with all kinds of mutations built in – a hunchback with a distorted spine, one very large thigh and, most obviously, elongated arms with heavy, stumped ends which gave him an animalistic gait perfect for his portrayal of this tragic character.

One thing the production needed to consider further was the sound design. There were some scenes that worked really beautifully, creating the sense of the island (especially at the start, matched with sporadic giggles from the island spirits), but some of the other soundscapes really dominated, detracting from the acting.

However, this is a performance that is being crafted for everyone to enjoy – right down to the kids. There are many standout comedy moments, most notably the slapstick antics of the sailors and the other stand-out clowns of the evening, the wonderful drunks played hilariously by Katherine Moss and Tara Houghton.

Really, though, the performance is the icing on the cake of a delightful night out. You can relax, open some wine, eat a picnic or grab some food from the food truck. Enjoy the warmth in the air, the sun through the trees, and as the day draws to a close, let Shakespeare’s Tempest take you away.

Venue: Pipemakers Park, Van Ness Avenue, Maribrynong

Season: Feb 17-19 +24-26, March 3-5, 6:30pm

Tickets: It’s all free – just come on down!