22
Aug
19

The Tempest

 

The Tempest

Zen Zen Zo

Trinity Parish Hall

August 16 – 31 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

We all want to break the chains that hold us in our prison cell.

We all want to be released and find our way out of the damp dark well.

We all want to glide like wind – an eagle to the wild.

We all want a land that we can call home.

 

I arrive in time to park in the street, beneath trees boasting fairy lights and a sky alive with the Ekka fireworks; perfect! An Ariel checks the water level in each of the silver buckets placed Zen-Zen-Zo-ever-so-strategically around the outer edges of the rectangular lawn that separates Trinity Church from Trinity Parish Hall on its sweet little island in The Valley. It’s here that we’re greeted by the company’s new Executive Producer & Education Manager, Nicole Reilly, and then by our Ariel. He is our Ariel by the powerful magic to which performers and top speaker circuit salespeople are privy; he engages and connects in the half a moment we need to simply pay attention and follow. We’ve already been stamped on the wrist, door bitch style, and guided to a place to sit. Or stand. This is serious adulting; for audiences, making these choices is part of a more active and immersive theatrical experience.

 

The tempest of the title takes a long time to happen, like a storm building far out at sea that doesn’t hit until after midnight, and seemingly only in our dreams. So I guess the spell is taking effect. The opening sequence is all very atmospheric, with outdoor lighting to cast Prospero’s shadow on the high brick wall of the hall, and a violinist giving the multiple Ariels their cues to move together, thrusting now rather than gliding if you must know – and if you’re an actor or an actor in training you must know – and the unlucky ship’s crew entering and bracing, preparing for perhaps the most famous literary and theatrical storm of them all. Ross Miller gets the opening line here with an almighty Suzuki trained and Linklater influenced, “BRAAAAAAAACE”.

 

This opening sequence sets up for the audience that something different is happening, and at the same time, risks being considered sliiiiiiiiightly self-indulgent and slow moving. It serves the performers by giving them time to establish role and mood, and to rattle or settle the disparate energies of their audience. This is vital if they are to manage us and move us through the space. So for some time, they play with spatial relationships and focus, relying on super close proximity and pensive or sultry stares and postures, depending on the performer, to slightly unnerve some and thrill others. They usher individuals from one spot to another, for no apparent reason other than to change the vantage point, or provide a point of focus while nothing much else is happening. It sets the mood and it gives latecomers their only chance to see the show, since a strict lock-out period applies once we’re inside and there is nothing zen about challenging the lock-out at a Zo show. Just don’t bother. It’s a Lynne Bradley thing. You can’t win.

 

If you miss out on the show on any given night, what you can do is go for a lovely dinner nearby, or see what’s on offer at Ad Astra or Brisbane Powerhouse, an old Zen Zen Zo haunt. Speaking of which, another stomping ground, The Old Museum, appears to have been made affordable for brides-to-be but not performing artists. While it’s lovely to begin in nature and enjoy the warm and intimate timber surrounds inside the parish hall, both the Powerhouse and The Old Museum would have served this show well. This makes me consider the challenges of a company’s homelessness; without a permanent place to work again, one of our long-term leading theatre companies is left to fend for themselves and find a space each time they schedule a season. It’s all very well to live and breathe The Viewpoints, discovering the architecture and interesting existing spaces throughout the city, but there’s merit in the madness of settling down. I recently visited Dairakudakan’s tiny all-black-everything performance space in Tokyo, and recognised once again, the sense of belonging and security offered by a permanent home for artists. 

 

If I think about it for too long, The Tempest’s constructed, contrived start annoys me, but for those who frequently visit a traditional theatre space (without writing afterwards about their experience!), and especially for the school groups that this show appears to be geared towards, looking to see the curriculum at work in the real life business of the Performing Arts, it’s the perfect invitation to join the company on a journey inside and to another island, the home of Prospero, and his daughter, Miranda, servant, Ariel, and slave, Caliban.

 

A small raised stage serves as the centre of the island, a striking setting that features a rowboat front and centre, jutting out as if dashed upon the rocks, holding Miranda in front of us, and under her father’s stern rule above us. Designed by Drew der Kinderen and Ben Adams, and alluringly lit by Simon Woods, the collaborative result is a place of mystery and magic; the audience  delights in moving around it, and we stand or sit as directed, or not; ultimately, the shape and pace of this show is as much about crowd control as creating the world of the play. I should mention that it was suggested we wear warm comfortable clothing in which we’d happily sit on the floor, however; having spent the previous weekend successfully participating in AusAct workshops wearing a pencil skirt, I decided to put this advice to the test. Conclusion? Strong core work required to frequently, elegantly, spiral up and down in said skirt; no problem.

 

 

Wayne Jennings is a stern and powerful yet playful Prospero; he’s imposing and omnipresent. He wields a magnificent hand-carved wooden staff and the thunder created with it as he drives it into the floor makes audience members jump, and not just the first time. I suspect its inclusion is, or was at some stage of the rehearsal process, also an actors’ dojo in-joke. As Prospero, Jennings is also gentle and generous when the story calls for it, as well as being an accomplished musician and MD. The title of MD is shared with performer and composer, Josh Curtis, who caresses a guitar that dreams of being a lute, and with Gina Tay Limpus, these two featured Ariels, willing slaves to the music as much as to their master, provide much of Emma Dean’s beautiful original score, with its intricate layers and harmonies, and tones and textures and pauses and catches of breath. Their voices blend sublimely and I can’t wait for their debut album.*

 

*unconfirmed

 

So let’s talk about the humble, completely unintentionally scene-stealing, Gina Tay Limpus. Seriously. Just for a moment; I mean, what on earth do we do with her now? After the show on opening night, I suggested putting her in front of Tarantino (there’s one degree of separation after Kill Bill, after all!), but this extraordinary talent could successfully transfer to any context anywhere in the world and make her mark there. Gina is one of the few female performers I know who properly stands in her power on stage. Talk about sovereignty. She’s a stand out, but you may not have ever heard of her, unless you saw DUSK at Brisbane Powerhouse or Alchemy staged in Southbank’s Cultural Forecourt during Festival 2018 (or my Insta feed during that time because #girlcrush and Kaylee Gannon’s costumes). Gina is the embodiment of our much discussed actor training and preparation, encompassing rich vocal work, and strong, sensual, controlled movement, fierce focus, harnessed, centred energy and that unnameable essence (though we may refer to it as ‘presence’), which has us hooked, not wanting to look away. But we must, because there are other gorgeous gifts in the vocal and physical performances of Travis Wesley (sinuous, sculpted), Ben Adams (hilarious, spontaneous and super fun as Antonio, opposite Siobhan Gibbs’ Sebastian), Maja Liwszyc (innocent, joyful, playful; she makes Miranda a tender temptress) and Luke Davis, the latter a relative newcomer to the tribe who’ll settle during the season as Ferdinand. He and Liwszyc connect beautifully, and sustain an extended bisoku sequence as the story continues elsewhere, their love for one another bringing time to a standstill. 

 

Alongside Director, Lynne Bradley, and a Caliban, Melissa Budd, Jamie Kendall has choreographed powerful and beautiful sections of this show. Not seeing him perform here could be considered a travesty, however; he’s another ready to fly. Zen Zen Zo proudly catches teaches and releases, and many of the performers return home at some stage, but this configuration shares a new, youthful ensemble energy. Special mention then, of Kai Woods, who appears with Nicholas Mohr as the King’s Men/Clowns and quietly, assuredly makes his presence felt.   

 

 

Wesley leads a motley Caliban crew, featuring Budd, Amy Cooker, Grace Keane-Jones, Liam Linane and Joshua McLean, and their heightened physical presence and appearance is enough to prompt some audience members to lean back or move away, staying out of their penetrating gaze and lion’s breath! The juxtaposition of this energy against the gentle, gliding Ariels is apt. (Heidi Harrison, Georgia Politikis, Sho Webber, Jazz Zhao and our local neo-burlesque beauty, Lauren Story). Bradley uses the Ariels and Calibans to draw attention to the company’s training arm, and the featured performers to showcase the individuality and finesse that comes from Zen Zen Zo’s disciplined approach to performance making. That’s not to say that a sense of fun or play is lost along the way, in fact; play remains at the centre of the creative process, and it informs each performance to a lesser or larger extent, depending on the demands of the text and the talent of the company members. Bradley skilfully shapes this re-staging of The Tempest, utilising the gifts and talents of the ensemble members to support the storytelling, and inviting audience members to become their travel companions. Shakespeare’s classic story is perhaps more authentically delivered this way and certainly, it’s more clearly presented by Zen Zen Zo than by many English teachers – sorry not sorry, English teachers; work it out. Get that text up and onto the floor. 

 

If you can get a ticket – there are just 20 remaining – come to this show curiously, sans assumptions about the company, the style of theatre or the space in which it’s staged, and you’ll experience a little bit of magic that you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else. This reimagining of The Tempest is a physical, musical, whimsical journey offering an enchanting escape from the daily grind, and a sweet moment of relief from whatever heavy notion, frustration, grief or grievance has got you down. It’s a style and a vibe of performance that will seduce you, tease you, test you and gently release you, ready or not.

 

Brisbane, it’s time to accept that, ready or not, Zen Zen Zo is back.


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