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THE TEMPEST (article first published : 2007-08-2)

Tonightís performance of Shakespeareís play The Tempest at the Hexagon Theatre on the University of KwaZulu-Natal Pietermaritzburg Campus was well worth the trip into the interior. First of all, it was a great pleasure to see Stephen Gurney back on the KZN stage again as he has been living in the UK for several years. Directing The Tempest is another old theatre pal, Murray McGibbon, now Professor of Theatre and Drama at Indiana University in America.

Both Stephen and Murray were closely associated with the Natal Performing Arts Council (NAPAC) and its successor, The Playhouse Company. As head of Drama, Murray directed many cutting-edge productions and, as senior actor in the resident drama company, Stephen performed in most of them.

The second pleasurable experience was to see a cast made up of students from UKZN as well as from Indiana University. This offered an interesting mix of accents, with the US cast members definitely displaying stronger projection and articulation skills. Apart from Mlondolozi Zondi, a spirited and velvet-voiced Ariel, I donít think the cast will win any awards for singing! This is a pity because the play contains a good musical score composed by Snethemba Makanya and Carmund White.

Staging The Tempest in the round, Murray has set the play on an imaginary island off the east coast of Southern Africa leaving it to the audience to make up their own minds as to the period. He has made good use of the Hexagonís many levels and entrances, particularly the technical gridwork in the roof. One could almost believe that Ariel was flying all over the place and Prospero could well have been looking down from his lofty vantage point on the chaos he has created with his spells.

As a wickedly manipulative Prospero, Stephen Gurney commands the play with the well-thought out, highly focused and dependable performance we have come to expect from him. Happily, he is back in South Africa for a while so letís hope we get to see more of him on the KZN stages.

I also enjoyed the performances of Jon Michael Wargo as Antonio and Timothy Speicher as Alonso. Mention must be made of Alyson Bloom as a luminous and endearing Miranda and Michael Aguirre as a likeable Ferdinand. Carmund White gave a consistently controlled performance as Caliban, a role that can all too easily slide into caricature. He was involved with some humorous knock-about drunken comedy scenes with Aveshree Maistry (Trinculo) and Reneldon Moodley (Stephano).

Reminding us of the innovative and challenging McGibbon touch, The Tempest offers a compelling evening of dramatic entertainment and itís heartening to see this kind of joint programme working so well. The Tempest is funded by the New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities Program, Indiana University, Bloomington in the US, made possible by a grant from the Lily Endowment, Inc., Indianapolis.

The Tempest runs in the Hexagon Theatre from August 1 to 5 with performances from Wednesday to Saturday at 19h30 (Sunday at 14h30). Tickets R40 (R30 students & seniors). Bookings on 033 260 5537 or e-mail hexagon@ukzn.ac.za Ė Caroline Smart




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