REVIEW: The Tempest (Pop-up Globe)

Review by Matt Baker

Lisa Harrow as Prospero

[The Globe is full of Noises]

Travis Graham as Caliban
Travis Graham as Caliban

The problem with The Tempest is that even with its self-awareness as a play, or perhaps in spite of it, it is not a dramatic work. Events of action both past and present are relegated to exposition. There is no onstage conflict; no scene in which two characters fight for opposing objectives. There are, however, moments of dynamism in the play, when, due to their complimentary or opposing nature, characters crash into each other like ships in the night. This is where director Ben Henson ensures the depth of the Auckland University Summer Shakespeare production is tapped.

Directing is 90% casting, and Henson has an acute eye for not only the individual, but also the pairings and the ensemble. The result is that even with three vastly incongruous plots, the style of the play remains as harmonious as the Ariel trinity as performed by Ryan DuLieu, Cole Jenkins, and a vivacious Jessie Lawrence.

Sheena Irving and Cherie Moore are electric as treacherous brothers Sebastian and Antonio respectively, their chemistry synthesising from witty one-liners to murderous intent in nature’s crucible. As Stephano and Trinculo, Patrick Graham and James Crompton have tied together the humour in the text and Henson’s comedic hand in a sailor’s knot, and even the minor Adrian and Francisco (Lucy Suttor and Frith Horan) are a well-balanced comedic counterweight in their lesser activities.

While I’ve always wanted to see an actor play the internal struggle in the nature of Caliban, Travis Graham gives a faithful portrayal, and the physical particularisation of his extremities is a subtle choice in a role that could easily be lost in a lack of specificity. As Miranda and Ferdinand respectively, Holly Hudson and Paul Trimmer are tasked with the often more difficult of Shakespeare’s roles – young lovers. Fortunately, their sense of play with the text maintains a liveliness despite the lack of opportunity to play a variety of actions.

Composer and music director Callum Blackmore defies the senses with a controlled chaos reminiscent of composer Jerry Goldsmith’s earlier work, while costume designer Christopher Stratton’s both fitting and not-so-fitting costumes are in excellent cohesion with Henson’s aesthetic – the water safety orange a particularly strong and fun palatal choice. The Lord-of-the-Flies-esque masked pigs sauntering backstage are particularly unsettling, but only served to make me pine for more of Henson’s dark side to infect the production.

Lisa Harrow is at home on the Pop-up Globe stage. Her thought process is crystal clear and her booted swagger provides a sense of ease that she is in complete control. And while Henson doesn’t rely on Harrow’s casting to carry the show, he utlises her strength as an actress to complete the deus ex machina of the three storylines, finding Prospero’s salvation not simply through the pairing of Miranda and Ferdinand, but through a beautifully weighted self-realisation at the culmination of events (simply yet effectively choreographed by Emily Campbell).

Whether one looks to the theme of pastoral romance or colonialism (the latter I would be very interested to see in a New Zealand production), Henson miraculously creates a series of moments for each, including a hauntingly beautiful submission to nature in act III, scene II. The Pop-up Globe has provided a fantastic opportunity for several home-grown troupes to tread its boards, and, with its meta-commentary, The Tempest is a fitting production. Henson’s unique aesthetical eye is a welcome contrast to both Twelfth Night, and Romeo and Juliet, and with his critically-acclaimed production of Titus on its way, there’s no reason not to embrace the variety of interpretations available at Auckland’s currently most talked about venue.

The Tempest is presented by the University of Auckland Summer Shakespeare and performs at the Pop-up Globe until March 13. For details see the Pop-up Globe.

SEE ALSO: review by Dione Joseph


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