Steampunk in Marrickville

Last night with my old friend, Ub, and her son, Dv, to see “The Tempest” at the Sidetrack Theatre at Addison Road in Marrickville.

This was a last-minute invitation as Ub’s husband was offered work which he took up. I doubt if I would have gone otherwise.

The production has been publicized as a “Steampunk” production, including in the SMH (though it hasn’t managed a review as far as I can see).

I can’t say I’d encountered the term before, though the concept is familiar. It’s hard to sum up, but it refers to revisited and now technologically obsolete visions of the future. The film Brazil is probably the earliest example I can remember. The 1940s-look film of 1984 has elements of something similar by reference to a slightly later period. Jules Verne and H.G.Wells are also often invoked.

A lot of work has gone into realising the Steampunk aesthetic. The set (within the limitations of the theatre), properties and costumes were impressive. I felt invention flagged in the second half once all of this had been established. Without any kind of stage machinery, the masque of Juno, Iris and Ceres which opens Act IV has a hard time of it, and the play itself has to rush to a resolution.

Ub said she found it more memorable than the Bell production which she had last seen; I’m not sure it eclipsed my memory of a Belvoir St production in 1990 but that had a more starry cast. In this case, the acting was variable – from better than New Theatre standards to rather worse in some minor roles. There were some longeurs; but there was also some real magic.

The two areas where I felt the magic was compromised was in a shortage of poetic delivery (which is what I think made the rush to a conclusion seem rather perfunctory) and the lack of any live music – all was recorded, save for a few of the songs which were simply sung unaccompanied by the actors and in at least one case, just tunelessly shouted/grunted.

Still, it was an honest attempt at the play and definitely a labour of love which has sent me back to the text and to thinking about it more afterwards, which must be the point of any Shakespeare production. I enjoyed it. I’m grateful to U and her husband’s employer for giving me the chance.

The production certainly deserves to be seen by more than simply friends of the cast. It’s a short run: it opened last Saturday and finishes this Saturday. Tickets are $33. The performance started at 8 and was over by 10.30.

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