The Tempest: Perfect storm of laughs

Sarah Gordon, Jesse Alston and Luke Jarvis. Picture: Jonathan CarrollCALIBAN, the character Luke Jarvis is playing in The Tempest, is unflatteringly referred to by the people who encounter him as a “monster”, a “moon-calf”, a “born devil”, and a “thing of darkness”.

And those are just a few of the derogatory remarks made about Caliban.

They are unsurprising, though, in the context of William Shakespeare’s play, which Young People’s Theatre is staging for a three-week season beginning on February 6.

Caliban is the progeny of an encounter between a witch and a devil on a desert island. An ugly creature, he was the island’s only inhabitant for a long time until an exiled duke, Prospero, and his young daughter, Miranda, arrived on the island and made it their home.

When Miranda reaches maturity, Caliban tries to force himself on her.

Prospero punishes him for his action by making him a menial slave, grimy and poorly dressed.

Caliban sees a chance for revenge on Prospero when a ship carrying Prospero’s sister, Antonia, and Neapolitan nobles who helped her remove Prospero from his role as duke of Milan, is wrecked on the island.

Prospero used magic skills he acquired while on the island to create the title storm to drive the ship ashore and plans revenge on Antonia and her accomplices.

Caliban, in turn, recruits two of the passengers on the grounded ship – jester Trinculo and the Neapolitan king’s steward, Stephano – to help him murder Prospero.

Things don’t go smoothly for Caliban, however. The section of the wrecked ship which carried Stephano ashore also contained the wine supply and the steward and his jester mate are perpetually drunk.

While this might not sound like the stuff of comedy, Shakespeare skilfully uses the drunken ineptitude of Stephano and Trinculo to raise laughs and make sympathetic points about Caliban and his relationship with Prospero.

For Luke Jarvis, the role of Caliban is a marked contrast to his CONDA-nominated previous characterisation as Jack, the farmboy who kills a giant, in the musical Into the Woods.

He sees Caliban as a bit deranged due to his unusual parentage and upbringing, as well as the way he has been treated because of his passion to have sex with Miranda.

Director Mat Lee said that while Caliban “looks disgusting and sounds disgusting, he definitely has some beautiful qualities”.

“Audiences find him sympathetic because he has lines which say much about the way he has been treated,” he said.

The Tempest, which was one of Shakespeare’s last plays, is also one of his most loved works, offering a skilful mix of elements of comedy and tragedy to produce an engaging romance, a genre that was new at the time.

The story elements include the falling in love of Miranda and Ferdinand, the son of Neapolitan king Alonso, who, like Prospero, has a treacherous sibling, his brother Sebastian.

With the shipwreck putting the castaways on different parts of the island, various subplots are developed before all the characters come together.

The play was written in the years following the discovery of America by Columbus and Shakespeare drew on the derogatory accounts by early Spanish settlers of South American native culture in his characterisation of Caliban.

He correctly depicted him as wrongly abused, something Mat Lee sees as helping to make the story timeless.

He has drawn elements from different periods.

While the costumes are largely contemporary, the props include swords and other implements from centuries past.

Lee has made some of the text’s male characters female.

He said that changing Prospero’s treacherous sibling from male Antonio to female Antonia gave a dynamic shift to their relationship.

The cast of The Tempest includes Dez Robertson as Prospero, Georgia Hicks-Jones and Ellen Papanicolaou (alternating as Miranda), Ben Stuart as Ferdinand, Jesse Alston as Stephano, Sarah Gordon as Trinculo, and Andrea Bain, Phoebe Clark and Tegan Gow sharing the role of Ariel, a mischievous spirit who does Prospero’s bidding.

The Tempest plays at Young People’s Theatre, on the corner of Lindsay and Lawson streets, Hamilton, from February 6 to 23, with performances on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 7pm, plus 2pm Saturday matinees. Audience suitability: year 7 students and above. Tickets: $15 (except the February 6 opening, which has a post-show supper: $20). Bookings: 49614895 (Friday 4pm to 6pm, Saturday 9am to 1pm).

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