Director John Galea’s ‘steampunk vision’ of The Tempest is infused with a palpable affection for the potential of the Steampunk aesthetic, which fits Shakespeare’s play like a brass-buttoned leather glove. Whereas many productions of Shakepeare that attempt to update or transpose the Bard’s work into a different setting or genre have a laboured sense of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, Shakespeare’s The Tempest has always lent itself to mythological and futuristic interpretations, and the play feels quite at home in this steampunk production.
For those unfamiliar with the genre, steampunk is a romanticisation of the possibilities of the industrial revolution in an alternative Victorianesque universe, and has manifested over the last 25 years as a literary style, pop culture movement and visual aesthetic. At its best, the genre places its audience at a fanciful crossroad in time, fusing bittersweet nostalgia with the optimism of industry and progress. Similarly, the island setting of The Tempest intersects the treacherous and turgid history of the older generation with the hopeful possibilities of the next. The production is high on inventive, fanciful fun and imaginatively reworks the play’s supernatural elements without losing any of its essence.
The characterisation of Prospero as a ‘mad scientist’ was an effective one, and Dominic McDonald performed the role with a gravitas that grounded the show. All cast members embraced the potential of Galea’s vision of the play, with the comic duo of Emily Elise and Pascal Rueger as Trincula and Stephano providing the audience with several of the night’s laugh out loud moments. The steampunk packaging also allowed for the introduction of interesting theatrical devices that enhanced the play.
Filmed footage disguised as interactive monitors worked quite well, and the idea of Propero’s technology allowing for Miranda’s memories to be visible as flashbacks was particularly tantalising. The use of the monitors as surveillance was also effective in creating a sense of intimacy in the scene between Miranda and Ferdinand, performed with playful sweetness by Lana Kershaw and Richard Hilliar, while simultaneously lending a sense of omniscience to Prospero’s powers. In addition, pre-filming many of Ariel’s lines allowed the talented Christopher Hawkins to foreground his contact juggling skills, while emphasising the other-worldliness of Prospero’s spirit servant.
Particular mention must be made in regard to the elaborate and beautiful costumes, which so perfectly captured the Steampunk fashion. It was clear that no attention was spared in their creation, and it gave an authenticity to the vision of the production.
The Tempest is showing at Sidetrack Theatre, Marrickville as part of the Sydney Fringe Festivaluntil 8 September 2012. For lovers of either steampunk or Shakespeare, the show is a must see.