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Black Swan’s ‘The Tempest’ a great, topsy-turvy affair – to begin with, half the men have morphed into women

This year sees the Black Swan State Theatre Company (BSSTC) celebrating its 30th anniversary. Now, you don’t need to be a maths genius to know that equates three full decades of brilliant theatre presented to Western Australian audiences.

In celebration, the company asked its members which of Shakespeare’s 37 plays would they like to see performed to round off its 2021 season. And the winning play was… The Tempest.

We’re happy it was selected because The Tempest is very much a character-driven play, giving each of its 11 players equal time under the limelight. And audiences do like a variety of cast members to relate to, to empathise with, even to sympathise with.

‘The Tempest’ 2021 is staged right back where Black Swan began – in the intimate Octagon Theatre on the grounds of UWA. But given the changed notions of love and matrimony over the past few decades – more interracial marriages; changing ideals of the ‘nuclear family’; greater acceptance of queer coupling – today’s ‘Tempest’ resonates to far broader audiences than previous incarnations.

This crossover ethos is most evident in director Matt Edgerton’s take, with the magic conjured by temperamental protagonist Prospero and the passion of his death-dodging subjects interweaved with cross-cultural song and dance (Prospero’s slave Ariel is probably the most evident of this “multicultural” aesthetic, delivering a melange of dance where east meets west, and making his way through various instruments, from exotic to modern). Whether wrapped in the words of a wild sea shanty or mesmerised by the vibrations of the African drumming handpan, the audience is taken on a post-postmodern delight of an aural adventure.

We’re also given some lovely surprises in gender swapping, with several of the players shifting from male to female. Prospero’s usurping brother Antonio becomes his conniving sister Antonia, while boisterous butler Stephano becomes the wonderfully loud lush Stephania – and the play is all the more better for its dismantling of gender constructs.

Despite all its themes of dark magic, betrayal and revenge, Edgerton and his wonderful cast’s wild new take on a Shakespearean classic is ultimately a joy to watch and hear. By the time Act IV rolls around, the audience is even treated to a modern, fun multimedia surprise.

The Tempest runs until December 11. Tickets are available at www.bsstc.com.au.

Get back to the Octagon and revel in the storm.

Antonino Tati

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