February 11, 2023

Summer Shakespeare: The Tempest

Summer Shakespeare has been a Wellington tradition for 40 years, often performed outside despite our somewhat tempestuous weather (see what I did there?). This year's offering is The Tempest at their most popular location, the Dell in the Botanical Gardens.

This is one of Shakespeare's uncategorised plays, not really tragedy (no pile of dead bodies at curtain close) nor comedy (though a jester and drunken butler both make an appearance). Weird magical creatures appear who are somehow enslaved to a mere man, yet the plot makes more sense than Timon of Athens (a previous Summer Shakespeare choice). A man was usurped by his brother and plots revenge, causing a tempest to land his brother, amongst other nobles, on his island of exile. For Shakespeare the ending is soft - a title is regained but the brother walks free.

There's something fitting about watching a play set on an island in the outdoors. There may not be allocated seating but the audience is guided to appropriate locations ensuring everyone can see and aisles are maintained. Sound was variable, some performers were miked while others relied on the stage mics (which occasionally picked up movement). The water elements were handled well but it's a shame they show more colour than most of the costumes, a differentiation in colour or cut may have highlighted rank and made characters unique.

The production has swapped some genders and included a non-binary character (played by excellent non-binary performer Susan Williams who I've seen elsewhere carry an entire show) on a rotating cast list. (Other) Noteworthy performances include Anna Secker as the believably innocent Miranda and Charlie Potter who sang beautifully as Ariel. The alternate cast flit in the background of scenes, presumably presenting floaty nymphs, being more of a distraction than anything else. The ecological theme is only evident when shipwreck survivors are offered plastics that float in the sea and somehow misses that natures powerful spirits are subjugated to a man with a book and a grudge.

Tips: bring layers to wrap up as it gets chilly, bring a chair if your body no longer feels like it did when you were 20 (limited chairs are provided), you can picnic before and during the performance, give yourself plenty of time to find a park and walk to the Dell (it's behind the rose gardens).

Performances: 11-25 February (times vary)

Tickets: $29

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