The Tempest: rough magic in Kilkenny

Lynne Parker has sculpted an easily digestible and streamlined story from Shakespeare’s notoriously convoluted plot

The Tempest

Kilkenny Castle Yard

What is this rocky reef that floats in the centre of Kilkenny Parklands? Framed by a dusking sky, surrounded by summerfull trees, this is the kingdom of Prospero (Eleanor Methven), where the ousted noble ruler of Milan has been washed up with her daughter Miranda; where she has schooled herself in a sorcery strong enough to ensure her return to power.

For this new production for Rough Magic Theatre Company, director Lynne Parker has sculpted an easily digestible and streamlined story from Shakespeare’s notoriously convoluted plot. Edited versions of the ship-set scenes are presented as radio transmissions, the crackle of electricity echoing the confusion of the sinking vessel. Meanwhile some clever doubling of the Caliban/Antonio and Ferdinand/Sebastian roles (nimbly played by John Cronin and Rowan Finkley respectively) is used to heighten the plot’s parallel conflicts. However, for the most part, Parker uses the outdoor setting of Kilkenny Parklands to immerse the audience in Shakespeare’s stormy tale of political corruption and star-crossed loving.

Alan Farquharson’s multi-level set rises to the atmospheric and practical challenge. A rugged skerry of shelved stone with a ruined mast jutting from its highest point, it allows the island to be used from all angles, while ensuring sightlines are not compromised despite the flat seating. Although much of the play is performed in lingering daylight, Sarah Jane Shiels outlines the structural skeleton of the stage with strips of neon that highlight the connection between Prospero and her spirit slave, Ariel (a sweet-tongued Matha Breen), who in Sorcha Ni Fhloinn’s costuming is at one with the baser elements of earth as well air.

However, it is Denis Clohessy’s sound design and composition, “full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight”, which really transports the audience to the lush and lusty green island of Shakespeare’s imagination, with its confounding and confusing spell. As darkness settles like a cloak around the stage in the play’s final moments, the fictive world and its spirits are melted into air with the “rough magic” that aptly gives the company its name.


Runs until Sunday, August 13th, as part of Kilkenny Arts Festival.

Sara Keating

Sara Keating

Sara Keating, a contributor to The Irish Times, is an arts and features writer